Writer Meltem Arikam was forced to flee Turkey after accusations against her and start a new life in Wales. While starting her new life, her husband unexpectedly died and she was left once again re-examining her place in the world, her sense of identity and where and how to belong.
In Y Brain/Kargalar, she examines the two parts of herself ‘Mel’ and ‘Tem’ her Welsh and Turkish alter-egos. The two performers deliver the script in their respective languages, sometimes to each other, sometimes at each other, sometimes into the ether, and there’s a distinct sense of the exploration of language, the exploration of identity and the struggle.
Finding herself in Wales Y Brain/Kargalar explores the conflict around finding a new home, a new language, and eventually despite the darkness, a sense of place.
It’s an atmospheric and engaging piece of work to watch and both performers- Welsh Rebecca Smith Williams and Turkish Pinar Ogun and there is no denying there is power in the piece, and in the words.
For those who speak neither Turkish nor Welsh a book- a physical book- was handed out, with English in the right-hand page. It’s a different approach to accessibility and inclusivity. Whether it’s designed also to put the non-Turkish non-Welsh speakers as something ‘other’ or whether it is simply a practical and cost driven solution is unclear.
It is possible to read it as an artistic choice. That the ‘world’ of the play is a split between Turkish and Welsh in terms of language, and those who speak neither are sat outside, their immersion in the piece literally broken off by needing to refer to the physical text.
And that plays into the themes of the play somewhat, the idea of language as a bridge, and a barrier, that struggle with identity that comes from which language you do or do not speak.
It is, in all honesty, a tricky one. Because it may be interpreted artistically. But it is also an access barrier. In terms of language, certainly, where Welsh learners perhaps feel less welcome. But from an access point of view for those with visual impairments and those with other cognitive issues such as dyslexia, who are genuinely excluded from aspects of the performance.
The piece is also fuelled with movement. From the opening where movement director Phillip MacKenzie has both performers in a state of perpetual motion which suggests both the journey from Turkey to Wales, but also the war inside Mel and Tem to arrive at who they are, or at peace. And the movement fuels the piece and adds a powerful layer of language alongside the musical accompaniment.
At times, when we are perhaps not following every word, the audience is pulled along with the movement within the piece. From clear choreographed moments to the synchronicity of movement and speech, the movement pulls along the story and adds a vital layer to the narrative.
The movement only stops in the very final moment of the performance and the audience is left in semi-darkness with the performers finally still. It is this perpetual motion to the piece – accompanied by a drumbeat ever present in the soundscape – that pulls along the piece and the audience with a sense of life unravelling.
Y Brain/Kargalar covers much ground- while the language rests at the forefront of the mind, it’s a piece that addresses everything from nature, womanhood to nationality and politics.
The abstract nature of the performances, the dissonance of language within it makes it a highly subjective experience. Like travelling through both countries hearing and seeing only snippets of life, what it offers really is a mish-mash of competing thoughts for an audience to take away.
This transient feeling fits well with the company’s narrative – they have established themselves as part of- indeed integral to- Welsh theatre, with their work to date.
However, their artists are still holding on to elements of another culture and seeking not just to reconcile with an adopted one, but to integrate and have a dialogue with the two. And this piece achieves that dialogue between our theatrical cultures, it offers a new voice alongside our own native language.
While Mel and Tem never quite resolve the elements of their personality, their history, their nationality that are at war, they in the final moments make peace with that, and the stillness and the quiet that follows is a moment of acceptance, and of reflection, so that the audience may do the same.
It is a powerful piece, one that would offer more in the reading alongside the performance, to remember and really take in all the political, and emotional moments that are lost in the pace and abstract nature of the piece. Nonetheless, it is a powerful and resonant reflection on nationhood and identity.
Y Brain/Kargalar will show on 18,19 June at Chapter, Cardiff, and 21 June at Theatr Soar, Merthyr. This review is based on a showing earlier in the tour.