The struggle with a language that you don't understand, compounded by the struggle with one that you do. Welsh, Turkish, English. Emily Garside takes on Y Brain/ Kargalar:

I have cried many times at the theatre. But I have never cried in sheer frustration at a lack of comprehension. That happened at Be Aware’s production of Y Brain/ Kargalar. And as difficult and frustrating as that was, perhaps there is something to be learned about what the production is trying to say through that emotional outburst.

Y Brain Kargalar Chapter

Y Brain/ Kargalar is in Turkish and Welsh, with surtitles projected onto the gauze of the set. For speakers of either language, following it by only understanding half would actually encompass the point of the piece. Mel and Tam represent two halves of writer Meltem Arika who fled Turkey after her writing caused controversy. Finding herself in Wales, she explores the conflict of identity around finding a new home, a new language and eventually, despite the darkness, a sense of place.

And it’s powerfully written and performed, the script delivered by each performer in their respective language, sometimes to each other, sometimes at each other, sometimes into the ether. There’s a distinct exploration of language, identity and struggle, a kind of perpetual motion thanks to Phillip MacKenzie‘s movement direction accompanied by an ever present drumbeat in the soundscape that pulls the audience along with a sense of life unravelling. It’s atmospheric and engaging to watch and with both performers – Welsh Rebecca Smith Williams and Turkish Pinar Ogun – there is no denying the power in the piece, and in the words.

Y Brain Kargalar Chapter

However, the words were lost on me. And this has become its own conflict with my own mind, my own sense of identity somewhat reflecting the piece, but also at odds with it.

For those who speak neither Turkish nor Welsh, a book was handed out with English in the right-hand page. So far, so good. As someone who works in accessible theatre, I’m always looking for new ways to create accessibility.

And maybe with a different type of play this would have worked. In naturalistic drama, a glance up and down from the page would work. Actors offering visual clues to the drama would work. But in a show so abstract, those clues are missing. And in a piece so engaging, so visual, being constantly taken out of it is an issue.

But my own issue is that my dyslexic brain couldn’t cope with that way of following. For 45 minutes I struggled on, until I gave up and cried. Then tried my best to read the rest of the script, and then let the play wash over me.

Why couldn’t I cope? A multitude of things. Firstly, switching between watching the stage and reading along. Secondly, reading subtitles, or surtitles, is different to reading a book, poetry or paragraphs on a page. And I could feel the ‘dyslexic fog’ descending, a time when my brain fills with fuzz, words start to move and merge and I can no longer make sense of it. I was reminded of the fact I don’t process information like everyone else. In everyday life it’s easy to forget. But here I was stuck, I was literally disabled by it.

Y Brain Kargalar Chapter

“What if I spoke Turkish to you?

“Why Welsh of all languages?”

That’s what the conflict in my brain feels like at times. What language is the world speaking, and why can’t I engage with it? Why are these words on the page so incomprehensible, English at times being as incomprehensible to me as Turkish?

This idea of language as a bridge, a barrier. The struggle with identity that comes from which language you do or do not speak. Feeling like I don’t belong and perhaps I should leave because I’m unable to grasp the language.

These are powerful, important reflections from the play – being at war with yourself – but in the moment the sense of frustration and almost paralysing fear at being trapped in an isolating bubble was an overwhelming reflection of what I try to repress every day.

Y Brain Kargalar Chapter

It’s a niche problem, a moment of inaccessibility. And the way I and others encounter the world is at least some kind of link to Y Brain/ Kargalar. And much like the story before me,  I don’t think there will ever be true peace in my brain either, one side always struggling with something. It’s something that is itself universal and without language in itself.

Y Brain/ Kargalar played at Chapter Arts Centre until 16 March 2019. For more information, please visit the venue website.