In 1895, James Alexander Kenneth Mackay wrote his novel, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia. A text dripping with stereotype and melodrama, it’s not a book you might think would be calling for theatrical adaptation, but it certainly works as one.
Euphemistically speaking, the ‘heightened tone’ of the source material is boundless. For example, in the final pages of the his book, Mackay writes, “But now, as the oxygen disappeared and the noxious effects of the carbonic acid became more potent, the dying man’s fancies took other shapes. All was forgotten, save that past when Love and he first met: Heather was again to him the child full of tender possibilities, and he the lover who was to make them blossom into glorious realities.”
Playwright, Jane Miller, has taken this wonderfully appalling material, and treated it much like Charles Ludlam did with his sublime, The Mystery of Irma Vep: A Penny Dreadful. Here we have a cast of two – Keith Brockett and John Marc Desengano – playing all the characters between them, along with a narrator, Andrea McCannon.
It’s a delightful watch, especially when there’s more than two characters in a scene. Despite the manic moments (such as when John interacts with himself, attempting to be standing and lying down simultaneously), there’s a real precision to their work.
The physicality is strong – made more fun throughout with little touches such as when John plays the hero with every move crisp and staccato complete with “FFFT!” sound like a badly dubbed Kung Fu movie.
It’s an interesting ecosystem they’ve set up on stage, the only set, a bench that Andrea is telling the story from. She isn’t part of the recreations, but doesn’t move away either. There’s a nice sense of collaboration as the play goes on that keeps you engaged, even as what you need to keep track of – the cast of characters, relationships, locations, and movements – grows and grows.
In my notes, I wrote, “Dragon Ball Z meets Picnic at Hanging Rock.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but what is certain is that, The Yellow Wave is an irreverent, entertaining watch that deserves an audience.
Director: Beng Oh Performers: Keith Brockett and John Marc Desengano Narrator: Andrea McCannon Sets and Costumes: Emily Collett Lighting Design: Matthew Barber Writer: Jane Miller – based on the novel by Kenneth Mackay Producer: 15 Minutes from Anywhere
The Yellow Wave
La Mama Courthouse, 349 Drummond Street, Carlton
Performance: Saturday 13 May 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 21 May 2017
For more information, visit: www.15minutesfromanywhere.com for details.
Image: Keith Brockett, Andrea McCannon and John Marc Desengano feature in The Yellow Wave – photo by Lachlan Woods
Review: David Collins