YELLOW YELLOW SOMETIMES BLUE from Q Theatre has now completed over half its run and I was late to the party. An unforgiveable breach of etiquette and a missed opportunity to tell you about this wonderful show. It is a superb rendering of the 1950s in thought and deed as we see Australian society beginning the change that will hit full force in a decade or so. It is set in 1954, before hippies and second wave feminism, but the seeds of change for women, immigrants and especially artists, are blowing in from dirty brown Nepean River that runs past the Lewer’s kitchen.
The production has been inspired by the history of Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest. The Lewers, Margo, a painter, and Gerald, a sculptor, were part of the Australian Modernism art movement and they were famous for their parties. This production sees the “help” in the kitchen of the home that “Mrs L” bequeathed to the public. They are busy with party preparations and serving the guests. Iris is a girl torn between career and settlement with the heart of an artist and Leo, is a post-war Hungarian immigrant with a melancholy of memories which surface without notice.
Live music is always delightful to experience in a theatre work and here there is cello, the saddest and most profound of stringed instruments, resonating with the inner world of the characters. (Me-Lee Hay). Occasionally the horn and double bass of distant jazz echoes in from the party offstage and live and recorded music impeccably evoke a period and emotional impact. (Sound Design: Tegan Nicholls) The pizzicato for the ‘yellow yellow’ scene is breathtakingly beautiful yet as complex and compelling as the lack of formality in Margo Lewers’ paintings. Google her work, you’ll be swept into them, even on a screen but better still, take a trip to the gallery.
Hay is nestled offstage but in view. Seldom though, does one look away from the truly enjoyable performances of the two cast. Iris is played by Kate Worsley. She is open and warm and does a good job of looking at her naivety through older eyes. As Leo, Adam Booth has a lovely physicality which he uses very effectively, as his is the main task to draw the word pictures. His humourlessness is never icy, but perplexed and questioning. These two performers have a consummate technical ability to juggle an extraordinary amount of business as the food is prepared, cut and cooked in a choreographed task-oriented practicality which is empowered by a thoroughly nostalgic set. There is a Hotpoint jug, working fridge and an electronic frypan which gives off the smell of onions and garlic and the vanilla of brandy.
There is an intricacy of period all over in the design from Katja Handt, not just in the constant food but in the caddies and stone sink and slight decay of a kitchen much older that the time in which the play is set. The spoon in the open Champagne bottle was a past blast of finely researched detail. There’s a Mrs Beetonesque feel in the etiquette guide projected above the stage. A sweet and clever indicator of what has changed socially, it provides many a comic moment not reliant on character. Very relatable and meta. With the blue upstage and a warm downstage, the lighting (Benjamin Turner) can suddenly steel to flash back or take us out of the kitchen. And the blue looks lovely on the black guests’ coats hanging on the rack.
The text from Noelle Janaczewska as directed by Nick Atkins, is delicately intricate inside the story yet delivered with swatches and swathes of history and social history. But neither is overdone. The characters step out of traditional storytelling to speak in the third person, soundlessly say the others’ lines and speak to us directly with eye contact across the small space. They are happy to skewer the pretentions of the partygoers with the toothpicks of the pineapple canapé creation but “I want to dislike these guests” pales as they engage with the ideas filtering to them from the assembled, debating, passionate artists.
And the history of the region is subtly interleaved into the text and obliquely applied. In the foyer before the show I met a another patron who was drawn by the history , a third gen Penrith woman who went to school near the Lewer’s home and who went on school excursions to the Gallery that now surrounds it. When I caught up with her after I asked whether the history was enough, this is a very personal drama not documentary theatre. Her enthusiastic engagement in this work was evident and exemplifies the broad reach of YELLOW YELLOW SOMETIMES BLUE.
You can still catch this production of YELLOW YELLOW SOMETIMES BLUE at The Joan [Facebook] until November 24 and with luck this production will tour to reach a wide audience because it is extremely good theatre making, a lovely production and a terrifically entertaining night at the theatre.