Theatre: Bush Theatre
Playwright: Urielle Klein-Mekongo
Director: Gbolahan Obisesan
Review by Briana Carter
Yvette, played Urielle Klein-Mekongo, charts a 13-year-old black girl’s journey to find herself when the world around her is both cruel and kind.
Living what, on the surface, appears to be a typical life. She fights with her immigrant mum who is unable to assimilate to Western ideologies. And she goes to school with her best friend Jess and her arch nemesis Patrice.
As she navigates puberty, she daydreams about her school crush Lewis. Spoken word accompanied by garage beats articulate her inner feelings. The reality is that Yvette’s life isn’t all snapchat filters and polished Instagram stories but is filled with hidden trauma and a crisis of identity and low self-esteem.
Directed confidently by Gbolahan Obisesan, Yvette’s world is set on a minimalistic stage comprised of makeshift doors separating the various rooms she occupies. A bathtub dominates the stage as Yvette’s sanctuary is the bathroom. It’s the place where she examines her ‘identity’ as a fat young black woman. It’s also the place where her deepest pains and griefs, at the hands of black men, are on display.
Klein-Mekongo brilliantly goes back and forth between playing Yvette and many characters, including the men in her life whom she adores. Yet these men, Lewis and Uncle Jay, cause her harm, disregard her, dehumanise the black female body and misuse their power.
Standing alone in the house with the lights lowered she bellows: “With few words my beauty he erases. Store bought, stuffed and pulled the world embraces. An artist’s creation but my canvas is black…. If I lighten my skin, will the ugly fall back?”
The play tackles a multitude of societal issues. Internalised racism and colourism are explored as Yvette, her mum, and her classmates Patrice and Jess each act out of the hurt inflicted upon them by the men in their lives. How they view the colour of their skin, the length of their hair, the size of their bodies relies on the lenses of the men whose attention they crave.
Yvette reminds you that being a teenager is hard. Consequently, the play has bitten off more than it can chew in a modest 55 minutes. While tackling sexism, colourism, feminism, antiquated ideas of domesticity and racism, there is multiple character changes which sometimes feels rushed.
However, Klein-Mekongo tackles these hard-hitting topics bravely and convincingly. She operates a pedal machine, carries out a choreographed dance routine while dazzling the audience with her charisma and poise. Breaking down the complex life of a teenager isn’t easy – but Klein-Mekongo gives it a valiant effort.
Trying to understand yourself in a world full of strife and stereotypes is a daily challenge for young black women. What is impressive about Yvette is she manages to simplify the woes and joys of adolescents in a relatable fashion.
This one-woman show is one you don’t want to miss.
Yvette is running at the Bush Theatre until 1 June 2019
Photo credit: Helen Murray