Shadow Language @ Theatre 503, London

cast list
Beverly Longhurst
Miranda Foster
Khalid Laith
Hemi Yeroham
George Georgiou
Eugene Washington
Nancy Wallinger
Zina Badran

directed by
Tim Stark
June and Tracee are Americans abroad. Both women have come to Turkey searching for a man. In Junes case, shes looking for a friend, a Kurdish asylum seeker, who was deported from the States; in Tracees case, shes chasing an ex-lover, desperate to reignite their affair.

A shared nationality is about all these women have in common. June is a church-going girl from Tennessee, who speaks to God when she is troubled. Tracee is a slightly unstable artist type, manic and impulsive, totally focused on her need to rekindle her volatile relationship. She takes June under her wing the 10,000 stolen dollars that June is carrying with her acting as a rather potent incentive to help her fellow countrywoman in her quest to find her lost friend.

As an exercise in awareness raising, Kelly Stuarts play certainly works. Shadow Language highlights the plight of the Kurdish people in Turkey, the hidden human rights abuses that happen so close to home, a country where so many people enjoy their fortnight in the summer sun. The loss of language is an oft returned to theme. The Kurds have been denied their own tongue, to the point where many are illiterate in their own language. Stuart emphasises how intertwined land, language and identity are; how a culture is slowly being obliterated by denial and how people can be driven to violent extremes to try and stop this erosion.

She is also happy to skewer her fellow Americans, so quick to wade in to a situation they dont fully understand. June is good-hearted but naive. Tracee initially seems more clued up than June, after all she speaks a bit of Turkish, and talks of the Kurdish situation with an air of authority, but both women are driven by individual desire, the plight of a people takes a backseat to the needs of their own hearts.

While theres a lot of interest in Stuarts play, neither of the two main characters are particularly likeable. Miranda Fosters manic Tracee soon becomes tiresome and Beverly Longhursts June is such an odd, buttoned-up character, it is hard to get a proper handle on her.

Tim Starks production sees the story interspersed with scenes of shadow puppetry projected onto various white sheets. Intriguing at first, these tell, in fable form, the story of a Kurdish man who journeys to America in search of his soul. But their oddly comic tone eventually begins to jar with the main narrative and, what started as a fascinating device, starts to irritate after a while.

Though at times slow-paced and repetitive, the various supporting characters that the two women encounter help to give shape to their journey: the young Kurdish woman whose husband is in prison and carries a photo-shopped picture of him holding a Kalashnikov, the American arms dealer who explains that, in Turkey, it doesnt matter that hes black – as, here, green is the only colour that really counts. The ending also manages to redeem things somewhat, and as June finally finds what she was looking for, the play achieves genuine poignancy.

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