This time last term, She Was Yellow did not exist; Milja Fenger did not know that she would be writing a play. The successful director of Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act (BT HT11) was originally to stage another, pre-written one, but then found herself with a different troupe of actors and performance venue. So she adapted.
The production will be the culmination of an initial writing session and several days’ collaborative efforts in devising scenarios, crediting cast and creatives alike. How enviable, and yet terrifying in equal measure, for a cast to wield such power, determining their own script.
The play tells the story of Ilona (Sarah Perry) and Aurelie (Alashiya Gordes). Friends since their schooldays, Aurelie came out to Ilona as a lesbian when the girls were sixteen – we sense that she has feelings for Ilona – but it takes several years, an extended absence on Aurelie’s part and an unhappy engagement on Ilona’s for her to work out that she reciprocates. We see the two attempt to reconcile Aurelie’s outward brash independence with Ilona’s compulsion to model herself on the social familial model: the two decide to have a baby together using IVF, using Aurelie’s womb. She develops Breast Cancer, however, and the couple is tortured by her ultimatum of either aborting the child and living, or keeping it and losing her battle.
I saw only little of the play which is why this is no review. Instead, I spent the better part of my time in the rehearsal room in a performing capacity myself rather than a detached onlooker and we develop the back story that precedes and leads to the couple’s tryst: Ilona’s four-year long engagement to John.
The play is all but finished, and this is not an entirely improvised performance, but it is safe to say that no two evenings will see the same show. The cast has concepts and ideas that need to be worked into each scene in order to follow the storyline, but staging is loose and the dialogue malleable.
Milja Fenger as a director is unlike any I have ever encountered. Her script is astonishingly insightful and her directing style strikes a perfect balance, flexible but not non-existent, but she is more importantly fresh, in the greatest sense of the word. As Aurelie, Alashiya Gordes presents us with a highly sensitive and restrained character, her earthy maturity and measure lending the sixteen year old schoolgirl wisdom beyond her years. Sarah Perry, though seemingly unwilling to diversify her emotional response, remains sincere throughout, to charming effect.
For a pair who had never met before this (Gordes recognised Perry from auditions for A Dream Play, but they hadn’t spoken), the two display a remarkable level of trust and intimacy, fully at ease with one another – no doubt developed by the nature of the rehearsals, where, as I learned, all barriers are quickly dropped.
It is all too easy to lavish praise on She Was Yellow, but although it deserves commendation for its innovative constitution, it is taking a slight risk. One crucial scene is shown to me twice, performed in different ways, and there is a stark change in atmosphere that, I feel, leaves the second showing deflated and slightly awkward, less believable. You don’t know what you’ll be seeing in the audience, but you’ll just have to trust this talented team. And besides, with drama of this level, you don’t get anywhere without putting your neck on the line, and this unpredictability of action reflects our position in our own “real lives”.
She was yellow – BT 3TT11 (17th-21th May) – Tickets £6 | £5 (conc)