Written by Dael Orlandersmith, this beautifully written two-hander is a masterpiece in storytelling of epic proportions. Whilst incredibly simple in design, the work is also superbly complex and intricate in nature, as Orlandersmith has interwoven duologue, storytelling, and testimony to narrate, in a poetic style, the intricacies of love, hate, bigotry, loss and difference that has haunted the African-American communities for hundreds of years.
‘Yellowman’ tells the story of two childhood friends. Alma and Eugene have grown up together. Alma, a dark-skinned African American girl, with a gin-sodden mother and dreams of a life beyond the confines of their small town. Eugene is lighter skinned, mixed heritage, educated and from a wealthier background. The story is one of raw contrasts, and chronicles the relationship between the two friends, across a twenty-year period, introducing the people that impact their lives, and detailing carefully the intra-racial hatred, isolation, bitterness that steers the two as they emerge into adulthood and tragic loss. Neither are able escape the legacy of racism and the tensions within their own community, and ultimately ‘Yellowman’ uses this truggle to highlight the malignant impact that colourism and by default racism has on communities not just in America, but all over the world.
This latest production of ‘Yellowman’ expertly captures the intent behind Orlandersmith’s writing, presented simply on an entirely bare, raised floorboard stage, with no set pieces and no props, but with bewitching lighting, Diane Page (Director) along with Nial Mckeever (Designer) and Rajiv Pattani (Lighting Designer), have crafted an environment for the two actors Aaron Anthony (Eugene) and Nadine Higgin (Alma) to connect deeply with the audience on a very personal and intimate level, eye to eye, and with total commitment to their characters. There are so many different layers within this production and the production team have crafted a truly artistic canvas on which Orlandersmith’s words can stand proud.
Together, the pair of performers are a delight to watch, and manifest their characters completely and fully. Anthony has a performance maturity way beyond his years, and is an incredibly controlled, and graceful performer who captures, with vulnerability the uneasiness of Eugene who is struggling with his identity, his community, and his masculinity. In contrast, Higgin presents Alma with a determined and vibrant power that not only captures the characters optimism for a better future, but also shows an empathic understanding of just how deeply self-hatred can run. Higgin demonstrates a perfect ability to navigate the growth of her character through all ages, the sign of a supremely talented performer.
There is so much tragedy and suffering in ‘Yellowman’ that some audience members were struggling to contain their emotions, and with a climatic and tragic ending, this piece is definitely not for the faint-hearted. However, this is a really important and truly spellbinding production, so one for the highly recommended list.
‘Yellowman’ is at the Orange Tree Theatre until 8th October 2022. Tickets are available here: https://orangetreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/yellowman
Reviewer: Alan Stuart Malin
Reviewed: 8th September 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★