Y Brain / Kargalar
Be Aware Productions
Meltem Arikan is one of a number of prominent theatre artists who were forced to leave their native Turkey several years ago as a result of political intimidation and have made their home in Wales.
Be Aware, the company founded by actress Pinar Ogun of which Arikan is a board member, has already made a significant contribution to the nation's cultural life with its domestic violence-themed gig theatre piece Enough Is Enough (which I didn't get to see). Y Brain / Kargalar is a more explicitly autobiographical play, specifically addressing the author's relationship with her new homeland.
As we enter the theatre, we are offered a copy of the play-text (with a handy night-light attached), for the benefit of those audience-members who speak neither Welsh nor Turkish, the languages in which the piece is performed. The Welsh translation has been provided by actress and writer Sharon Morgan who, as far as I can tell, has retained much of the rhythmic flow of the original.
This is an unashamedly lyrical piece, even as it touches on dark themes: bereavement, exile, isolation. The title refers to crows, symbolic both of avian freedom and bleak omens; this is reflected in Lauren Orme's video backdrop.
Buddug James Jones's set comprises an array of gauze curtains through which the actresses, Ogun and Rebecca Smith-Williams, appear, both barefoot and clad in black dresses and leggings. The programme tells us that they are manifestations of the same character—Ogun's "Mel" speaks only Turkish, Smith Williams' "Tem" only Welsh.
The piece is a conversation between the Turkish and Welsh elements of the author's persona. The Turkish side reflects on the past and her troubles; the Welsh half exults in nature and the opportunities inherent in self-reinvention.
There is little dramatic action, but director Memet Ali Alibora, in conjunction with movement designer Phil MacKenzie, choreographs the play in such a way that there is constant motion, whether the actresses are marching in unison whilst emitting quickfire dialogue, playing childhood games as they recall more innocent times, singing pop songs or comforting one another. Ogun and Smith-Williams are physically dissimilar and neither boasts the blonde hair which the author refers to in her self-referential text; this adds to the dreamlike ambience.
John Rea provides an electronically-inflected soundtrack which flits between the ambient and the percussive; Angharad Evans’s lighting design is similarly sympathetic to the mercurial atmosphere.
Surtitles are projected in Welsh and Turkish. Being fluent in neither tongue and therefore having to continually consult the English script, I was unable to fully immerse myself in the universe of the play, since I was unwilling to miss out on the verbal subtleties. Nevertheless, the interdependency of the two halves of the protagonist came across powerfully, their wistfulness and anger evident no matter what the language.
Despite the unhappy events alluded to, one comes away with a sense that the central character has achieved some kind of liberation. Y Brain / Kargalar is an intriguing, poetic, almost balletic experience.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith