A witty race comedy and emotional journey through imagined Australian history, a story they couldn’t make up if they tried.
A wave of entertainment is washing over The Butterfly Club as part of the inaugural Poppy Seed Festival. 15 Minutes from Anywhere’s The Yellow Wave is a laugh a minute journey navigated by three incredibly talented actors.
The Yellow Wave is based on a 1895 tale by Kenneth Mackay, and follows the fake invasion of Australia by the Russians, Chinese and Mongols. Queensland is awash with Chinese slave labour, and the English are distracted by an attack on India, leaving down under defenseless and under resourced. In the Victorian Age when this book was first published, the horror came from the “Asiatic invasion” and the use of foreign, Chinese troops, and the idea of growth in the Orient.
The show, narrated by Andrea McCannon, follows the extraordinary tales of the book, and also pokes fun at the holes and ridiculous story line of the original text, while embracing the challenging conventions of the novel. Told in a number of segments, we meet character after character, male, female and from all around the world, portrayed by Keith Brockett and John Marc Desngano. From Russian to Scottish to Occa Australian and varieties of Asian, these guys navigate the oceans of the world with comic, clever and stereotypical accents.
The performances by Brockett and Desangano, accompanied by McCannon as Narrator, are a joy to watch. Dedicated, funny and absolutely brimming with energy, the small stage is filled with their presence and the presence of the countless different characters they create. It is a feat, for the two male actors to portray at least 6 characters each, chopping and changing, while McCannon steers the show through rough waters of the storyline, and keeping up the frantic space. They are all masters of expression and between the misplaced words and pronunciation corrections that are common with a second language, to the truly physical nature of a performance like this, the cast never miss a beat.
The set is simple: a bench or pew, centre stage, with the seating set up in rows much like a tour bus. The show doesn’t need anything more, as the bench is a device for each scene and character change, allowing the actors a space to hide behind while they transform. The simple lighting is a few coloured gels, used to heighten tension and battle scenes, and makes good use of the limited resources.
The sound is one of my favourite things about this show. All sounds are diegetic and made on stage by the actors, from the comic book/ graphic novel style “swooshes” with each movement, to the overdramatized gasps and sound effects, all sounds are rich and well rehearsed and timed perfectly against the backdrop of accents and character changes. A special mention must occur for the singing of Ave Maria on stage during the battle scene, which is both hilarious and pitch perfect, combining the grisly actions with the pure sound to present something worthy of our shocked laughter.
The modern elephant in the room is the not very subtle references to ‘boat people’ and the views on migration in Australia; the book and show don’t portray them in the most positive light, and nor does Australia’s political agenda today. Then again, if you’re laughing at the two non-Angelo Saxon, non-Arian boys playing an array of characters, including young British women in the Victorian Age, then sorry, but you are a racist. This is the only sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes sad thing about the show- it is built on the slick, but definitely not politically correct race humour that Australia knows and loves. These things shouldn’t be funny, but on this stage and presented in this contemporary way, they are. The show also brings to light issues still faced by Australians today, with the reflection of our national somewhat represented in the characters of this show.
The direction by Beng Oh and writing by Jane Miller is superb, and the show itself is described well in the show’s final few words. A kaleidoscope of characters and settings, on a beautiful journey devoid of a clear point or destination, but a truly laugh out loud show not to be missed.
The Yellow Wave plays at The Butterfly Club at 8.30pm until 29th November. Tickets at poppyseed.net.au