BERLIN — It took two months, three ballpoint pens and three ruled notebooks for the journalist Can Dundar to write “We Are Arrested.” Mr. Dundar was being held in pretrial detention in Turkey, much of it in solitary confinement, and writing became a lifeline, he said.
“I was writing like a crazy guy,” he said in an interview in March, “trying to use every method to reach the world.”
Now the Royal Shakespeare Company in Britain has dramatized Mr. Dundar’s account of his imprisonment, and the play, also called “We Are Arrested,” opens in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, on May 31 and runs through June 23.
As the editor of Turkey’s oldest newspaper, Cumhuriyet, Mr. Dundar published footage in 2015 alleging that Turkey’s spy agency was shipping weapons to rebels opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The Turkish government arrested Mr. Dundar and Erdem Gul, another journalist at the newspaper, accusing them of espionage and trying to topple the government. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed the criminal complaint himself.
The two journalists were released after their detention was ruled unlawful, but they were later convicted of revealing “state secrets.” Mr. Dundar remained free on appeal and left Turkey just before a failed coup in 2016. He now lives in exile in Berlin.
“We Are Arrested” tells the story of Mr. Dundar’s detention — from the decision to publish the report to the months that followed in solitary confinement. The actor Peter Hamilton Dyer plays Mr. Dundar, supported by a cast of three others playing multiple roles, including Mr. Dundar’s wife and son and the chief prosecutor.
The play is performed in the round, with a minimal set. It is an insight into the life of a journalist battling for the right to publish under an authoritarian government, but also into the tactics for survival. Some of the most moving, and entertaining, scenes dramatize the acts of ingenuity and imagination that made solitary confinement bearable. He scrapes ink from magazines and uses fruit peels to make paintings, and he learns the prison recipe for a toasted cheese sandwich: wrapped in a plastic bag and baked overnight between the bars of a radiator.
In April, 13 of Mr. Dundar’s former colleagues at Cumhuriyet were convicted of aiding terrorist organizations in a move that the newspaper’s editor, Murat Sabuncu, described as an “attack against us and against all the journalism community.”
In an interview in his office in Berlin, Mr. Dundar described Turkey as a police state and his experience in Germany as a “honeymoon” in comparison.
Mr. Dundar’s freedom in Berlin is restricted. The city has a significant Turkish population, and he is as likely to be the target of abuse in the streets as he is to be asked for a selfie. He has police protection when he speaks in public.
“Berlin is not the securest place on earth,” he said. “On the contrary, it is a difficult city for Erdogan opponents, because there are so many fanatic supporters of him here who are influenced by government propaganda saying that I am a traitor. But there are also so many comrades too.”
In March, the Supreme Court of Appeals in Turkey overturned Mr. Dundar’s original conviction and ruled that he should be charged with espionage, a crime that carries a sentence of 20 years. The trial began this month; he is also being prosecuted in absentia in three other cases. At the beginning of April, a Turkish court issued a warrant for his arrest and is seeking an Interpol arrest warrant.
Although Mr. Dundar has received assurances from the German government that it would not comply with such a warrant, he is now facing kidnapping threats: Turkish officials have bragged that they have secured the deportation of 80 Turkish citizens from 18 different countries.
“It’s a kind of piracy,” Mr. Dundar said. “In the Turkish media, pro-government writers are saying it’s my turn.”
Mr. Dundar is a charismatic man with a disarming sense of humor, even in the face of such stressful circumstances. He has become a public figure in Germany, frequently appearing in the media and on public platforms, and he writes a column in the national weekly Die Zeit. He has a fellowship from the German branch of PEN, the international organization that defends freedom of expression, and he works closely with Correctiv, a nonprofit center for investigative journalism.
“It’s a strange, lonely stardom,” said Sophie Ivatts, who is directing “We Are Arrested” for the Royal Shakespeare Company. “He has found himself in the position of being a political lightning conductor, when he just wants to be a journalist.”
“We Are Arrested” is being staged at The Other Place, a studio theater that has a long tradition of producing new drama: “Les Misérables,” the hit musical “Matilda” and the Christopher Hampton play “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” all began their lives there. Ms. Ivatts and Pippa Hill, the company’s literary manager, worked closely with Mr. Dundar on the adaptation.
With Mr. Dundar’s blessing, Ms. Ivatts and Ms. Hill removed specific references to Turkey when adapting the book for the stage.
“What’s fascinating about Can’s story is that it happened in Turkey, but it’s also beginning to happen in other places around the world,” Ms. Hill said. “ And what we really wanted to do in every way possible was to ensure that the audience are able to envisage this story happening close to home, happening to them or to people they know.”
Mr. Dundar has also found a home in German theater. He has led a project to work with other artists exiled in Berlin at the Gorki Theatre, and he took part in a performance in January commemorating the life of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was murdered in Istanbul in 2007.
“For theater in Britain as well as Germany, it’s exciting to deal with the issues in his story and what he is facing,” Shermin Langhoff, the Gorki Theater’s artistic director, said in an interview.
Ms. Langhoff, who was born in Turkey, added that Mr. Dundar’s story “is a metaphor for how fast we can lose our rights.”
The play is a moving testament to the fundamental importance of writing, and being heard, when more journalists are in jail in Turkey than anywhere else in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Mr. Dundar wrote a book in prison, but he continued to write articles, too. When he is given a pen and notepad in his cell, he describes them, in a stirring speech, as his two oldest friends. They are his solace, his defense and his route to freedom.
Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Istanbul.
“We Are Arrested”
May 31 through June 23 at the Royal Shakespeare Company; Stratford-upon-Avon, England.