Review: ★★★★ Yvette, Bush Theatre

Review: ★★★★ Yvette, Bush Theatre

A teenage romp that tips into something altogether more poisonous, Yvette is an play of warmth and humour with a lurking, predatory disturbia underneath.

Written and performed by Urielle Klein-Mekongo, the play follows the narrative of a thirteen year-old attempting to navigate the usual teenage traumas of boys, school, family and friendships. The story is told through an innovative mixture of textual styles, including spoken word and song. It is in these modes that Klein-Mekongo really shines, using a loop pedal to capture and layer vocals into complex melodies and soundscapes: particularly effective is her rendition of a classroom brawl, recording slaps, punches and huffs of breath over which she performs a vitriolic and political piece of spoken word.

Although she is the only performer onstage, Klein-Mekongo multi-roles beautifully, bringing other characters to vivid life through sharp physical and vocal characterisations. There are moments where she chooses not to perform as two characters in a dialogue, and these feel rather flatter in comparison: we are left listening to silences that could have done with population, our imaginations straining to hear the responses to her questions. The humour that these other characters bring is also wonderful, creating a varied landscape of life on the stage.

The central crux of the production is rather darker, though, and we see this ordinary, funny life ruptured by sexual assault. Klein-Mekongo writes in the foreword to the play-text that she “wrote Yvette as a self-healing piece, to reconcile with my own experience of sexual abuse”. It is in these moments that the play gains its power, and a particularly sinister use of vocal distortion drops us into a repeated nightmare. The phrases “you are beautiful” and “you’re safe” are followed swiftly by sexual commands, all in a monotone, robotic voice which powerfully conveys the numbing horror of the event. This soundtrack is much more effective than the accompanying movement sequence, which lacks nuance or impact.

The final song shows Klein-Mekongo off at her best, as an emotive and powerful performer with a message of resilience both to herself in the present moment and in the past. Is it a message that translates beautifully to the audience, who leave having laughed and been moved in equal measure. This play doesn’t always hit the marks it is aiming for, but when it does it is formidable.

 

Esme Mahoney

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