Bush Theatre, London – until 4 June 2019
Guest reviewer: Pearl Esfahani
Originally commissioned in 2017, this incarnation of Yvette is being brought to the intimate studio space of the Bush Theatre. As I enter to the tune of Oxide & Neutrino’s Casualty remix ‘Bound 4 Da Reload’, I’m immediately transported back to my teens. Giorgia Lee Joseph’s set is simplistically domestic, and feels familiar as a working class home with flimsy doors sectioning the space.
We follow Yvette Then and Now on a journey navigating becoming an adult. Urielle Klein-Mekongo’s language between verse and prose is woven so effortlessly that it seems natural to speak in poetry. I often tire of the much used loop pedal seen in so many solo shows of late, but Klein-Mekongo shares the joy of creating each layer of sound and it’s difficult not to get on board.
This is a story of a dark skinned girl, with a lone parent African mother, but so much of the play resonates to those with immigrant parents. Harsh messages of relentless hard work, a combination of strict rules with excruciating frankness. When Yvette’s mother exclaims: “You think you’re woman now…cos you got hair on your pussy!” part of me dies for a moment as I wonder if someone has in fact directly quoted my mother.
It is a tough reality of a mother with hopes and dreams never fully realised. Whilst pinning all their hopes on the daughter, and preparing them for the harshness they have also experienced, the love and warmth can feel lacking, and certainly is missed by our Yvette. From this fractured mother-daughter bond, Yvette receives any attention willingly in the search for acceptance.
The bath tub on set, rather than a site of cleansing becomes full of pubes, vomit, bleach and shame. Gbolahan Obisesan’s direction of key moments in the play, (no spoilers), ranges from hysterically funny to stark and dangerous, and each time is visually powerful. No men are on stage, but misconceived male ‘kindness’ and blurred boundaries hang in the air. But as an older Yvette proclaims, ‘ You are not my story’, this is not about forefronting male violence. Instead we are taken on a feminine journey of healing as Yvette reclaims her space, her brown body, her narrative, and ends with an affirmation to women everywhere.