How Be Aware Productions came into existence could easily be a story ripped out of Hollywood screenplays, were it not the unfortunate reality of its company members. Forced to run away from Turkey five years ago they found sanctuary in Wales and are today an active part of the arts community. It’s this upheaval that forms the foundation of Y Brain/Kargalar (The Crows), a mesmerising two-hander from writer Meltem Arikan.
What Arikan has done is give structure and form to her own identity crisis. Her two protagonists are the warring halves of that identity (aptly named Mel and Tem). Mel (Pinar Ogun) talks only in Turkish and is haunted by memories of the past. She longs for her family and her homeland, but she also recalls the oppression and harassment she faced. Tem (Rebecca Smith-Williams) speaks only in Welsh, full of curiosity and positivity for the future, willing Mel to embrace Wales completely. In Arikan’s play, as in her mind, whatever her concepts of home and belonging were have evaporated. Instead she balances on a tight-rope somewhere in the middle, unsure whether to feel guilty about the people she’s left behind or excited about the freedom now in front of her.
That the audience is allowed such deep access into Arikan’s personal insecurities is genuinely unsettling, and Memet Ali Alabora plays on that with his direction. Smith-Williams and Ogun move as one organism, pulsating like heartbeats or brainwaves along to John Rea’s similarly repetitive electronic compositions. Just as Arikan’s script is deliberately concise, so too does Alabora make sure that neither performer has any wasted motions. Each step has a purpose. Alabora’s design choices are also well thought-out. There’s something otherworldly about the way Angharad Evans’ lighting cascades through the fabrics that surround the set. Buddug James Jones’ box-like staging is a not-very-subtle analogy of Arikan’s brain, the playground for these eternally bonded characters.
Ogun and Smith-Williams play their parts perfectly. The intensity of the production is challenging enough, but for the two performers to have such great chemistry in different languages is a testament to their abilities. They are strong both physically and vocally and, especially in the case of Ogun, the audience can feel the pleasure of Arikan’s exquisitely poetic text. However, its also here that the production finds itself at a bit of a stumbling block. For those only familiar with one of the languages (or neither), attention is forced away from the piece. While the company does a capable job with the captioning and surtitles – and Lauren Orme’s animation is gorgeous – there’s no doubt that this causes some disengagement. With two performers who have such expressive faces and physicality, it’s a shame that they can’t always have the audience’s full attention.
The genius of Arikan’s script is the way in which it skips from theme to theme the way her brain will skip from thought to thought. It never feels like any of those themes are underappreciated, though. They are thrown out there and left to linger, leaving the audience with arguably as many questions coming out as they had going in. Those expecting some sort of satisfying climax or cathartic moment will be disappointed as, in truth, Meltem Arikan’s story hasn’t ended yet. What you get instead is one of the most intimate and truthful pieces of theatre made in Wales in recent times. Y Brain/Kargalar proves that, as outrageous as Hollywood can be, truth is always better than fiction.