Melbourne-based theatre company 15 Minutes from Anywhere bring Kenneth Mackay’s 19th century novel, The Yellow Wave, to colourful life for Melbourne’s brand new theatre festival.
Described as a romance of the Asiatic invasion of Australia, The Yellow Wave was published in 1895 and is an epic saga of love, heroism and sacrifice as Australia is invaded by the Mongol hordes. 15 Minutes From Anywhere (Beng Oh and Jane Miller) have condensed the original 400 page document into a 70 minute action packed piece where 2 actors take on the roles of over 20 characters.
One of those actors is Keith Brockett, who is best known for his role playing Ky Lee in ABC’s award-winning cult hit The Librarians. Brockett was initially drawn to the project because, he says, there is a certain delightful charm in the way Kenneth Mackay describes his Australia in The Yellow Wave “…a charm tinged with a little bit of unchecked paranoia regarding the invasion of our borders by our Asian neighbours – On the one hand, a sweeping saga of star-crossed lovers set against the majesty of the Great Outback; on the other, a blood-soaked fever dream of foreign aggression that would put Game of Thrones to shame! It’s a story too good not to share, despite the fact (or perhaps because of it!) that a lot of what was said in the book regarding foreigners is still being echoed in certain parts of today’s society.”
Mackay himself was the author of many books, but was perhaps best known as a soldier and founder of the Light Horse fighting brigade. His novel, The Yellow Wave, is a key early text dealing with racism, western prejudice and national identity.
For Brockett the themes are multi-layered: “Well, the ideas of racism (casual and overt) and xenophobia are ever-present, but we also look at the notions of loyalty and mateship, the position we give women within our society, and our perception of Australia’s mythology – the history that we choose to construct for ourselves. This work is not about making any particular statement, political or otherwise, but rather choosing to say, ‘So, this is what people back in the day felt was a good story to tell. Is it still? Are these the kind of stories we’re happy to continue telling? And could you tell the difference between my Mongolian accent and my Welsh one?'”
Perhaps fittingly, this adaptation is directed by an Asian-Australian (Beng Oh) and performed by two Asian-Australian actors – Brockett and John Marc Desengano, Brockett and Desengano play about 21 characters between them – from the Russian elite to English hypnotists, from sinister Chinese commissioners to true-blue Aussie jackaroos, so there’s plenty to choose from.
“My favourite, though, would have to be a short, battle-hardened courier who hails from the town of Avignon who bears a very important message, one capable of changing the course of Humanity,” Brockett enthuses. “He holds all the characteristics I admire – brevity, compassion, unerring loyalty, fortitude, articulation – so do look out for him.”
Brockett and Oh go way back having first met at the 2006 Short and Sweet Festival in Melbourne when Oh offered Brockett a script at the opening night party, and said, “call me!”. “It was for a show called Porcelain which we put on at La Mama (Thanks Liz Jones!) and we haven’t looked back since,” explains Brockett. “And then Jane Miller came on board and I fell head over heels in love with her writing, and now wild horses couldn’t tear us apart.”
Brockett’s work encompasses both stage and TV and, he quips, prefers whichever one’s employing him at the moment! “It’s apples and oranges, as they say,” he tells me. “Though it’s not, really. It’s stage and TV. Nevertheless, I’d have to say the stage wins by a nose, and that’s only because you can’t beat a live audience cheering you on, or booing you off, or answering their mobile phone in the middle of a performance – those are the moments I live for!”
The Yellow Wave is the second offering for the Poppy Seed Festival – the newest theatre festival in town – so check it out. But don’t just take my word for it, Brockett sells it well:
“Did you see Baz Luhrmann’s Australia? Did you love it? THIS SHOW IS JUST LIKE THAT! Did you not care for it? THIS SHOW IS NOTHING LIKE THAT!”
“There’s passion! Romance! Intrigue! Action sequences! Chinese opera! Horse racing! Cups of tea!”
“Plus, with two-thirds of our cast having non Anglo-Saxon backgrounds, this is going to be the most diverse cast you’ll see all year (Note: this may not be the most diverse cast you’ll see all year)! Now that’s something to talk about at your next Christmas party!”
November 17 – 29