Writer/Performer: Urielle Klein-Mekongo
Director: Gbolahan Obisesan
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
We are witnessing a future star in the arts industry, her name is Urielle Klein-Mekongo. China Plate present Yvette, a one-woman show with new music about societal pressures young girls face, a stolen childhood, and living with a perturbing secret. This is based on a true story.
The central character Evie is just thirteen years old. She lives in Neasden, an area in London, with her mum. She desires to reveal something to us. Could it be about something typical of a young girl growing up? Or is it something to do with an ‘Uncle’ lurking in the corner of her story.
Before going any further, the Royal Exchange Theatre must be praised for taking care of their audience upon arrival by making us aware of the trigger warnings, because this is a story about rape. Furthermore, it’s delightful to see the diversity of artists and voices in this season’s programme.
Klein-Mekongo brings courage, vulnerability, warmth, compassion, heart, soul, and sensitivity to her performance. Simply, remarkable. Portraying multiple characters in a true to life manner such as Evie’s mum who is protective, hilarious, and full of love. No one messes with her or her family. Her vocal versatility injects spirit into the characters and story and makes Klein-Mekongo a captivating performer. All the way through, there is narration of action and switching from one character to the next.
Her music is delicately poignant and uplifting all at once. Klein-Mekongo creates the music live onstage with her body and voice using a microphone and a loop pedal. The repetition of particular lyrics or sentences can sometimes be effectively disturbing but in other scenes, uplifting. The opening rap shows Evie’s fun, playful, and innocent side. On the flip side, we witness Evie’s gradual maturity and catharsis through this one-act play, evident in the extracts of spoken word and the powerful, climatic, closing song.
Without wanting to reveal too much, the moment with the letter and the closing song are both outstanding scenes. This is the magical moment when theatre deals with something bigger than itself. It’s meant for everyone who can in some way relate to the dark themes and narrative unfolding before them. It’s nothing short of phenomenal. This is a real connection between a soul-baring performer and an audience which is palpable.
Designed by Giorgia Lee Joseph, the set is primarily made up of doors and windows. An effective reminder that we don’t always know what happens behind closed doors and may be interpreted as a metaphor for suppressed memories and feelings. Azusa Ono’s lighting is intensely strobe-like when simulating Evie’s panic attacks – the piercing sound of microphone feedback really adds to that distressing point in time.
There is an underlying rhythmic life-force to this play and not just present in the actual music either. The pacing and flow to the script is spot on with just the right blend of humour and anguish: often one immediately follows the other. Yvette is distressing, cathartic, and remarkable featuring a wholehearted central performance from Klein-Mekongo.
Reviewed on Friday 7th June 2019 | Image: Helen Murray