Arts-House-THE-RABBLE-YES-Dana-Miltins-Mary-Helen-Sassman-photo-by-Pier-CarthewThe initial conceit of Melbourne company THE RABBLE’s YES is that any question has to be answered with “yes”.

Yes, I want to. Yes, that’s fine. Yes, I trust you. Yes, you can. Yes, you’re right. Yes, that hurts. Yes, I said “no”. “Yes” is powerful and far more complex than a positive affirmation about consent and understanding.

On a large flat stage covered in aqua green carpet and backed by long gold curtains there is a tv screen and two women, who could be 20 or 50. They wear 1970’s bright blue eye shadow and oversized gold leisure suits, which look like they belong on old women in a sitcom retirement village.

Performers Dana Miltins and Mary Helen Sassman are original members of the company that was formed in 2006 by Emma Valente and Kate Davis. They play multiple characters and alternate between the person asking questions and the one answering.

At first, it feels like a game that’s welcome and funny as one checks that the other is comfortable and assures them that they are in a tiny room filled with furniture. But saying “yes” gets uncomfortable when one asks if the other forget their child.

In repeated scenarios, characters say “yes” when it’s easier than saying “no” or when they have no choice. Consent is blurred as clarity and comfort disappear.

While there’s narrative in the scenarios, it’s always best to let a RABBLE show flow into your subconscious rather than trying to find clear meaning. In a collaborative process that includes discussion and improvisation, the strength of the final script comes from countless hours of work and words that have been stripped away.

With so much of the meaning of this work in the subtext and the silence, it doesn’t matter if the understanding you find is only for you.

“Yes” is not saying “no” when our government and society make choices that are destroying us. “Yes” is turning a blind eye or assuming that someone else will step up. “Yes” is such a messy answer.

But YES is precise.

Sassman and Miltins work together like they are inside each other’s thoughts and Davis and Valente’s direction ensures that every moment of comic joy is questioned. It’s never clear if the performers are even on stage by choice. Who did they say “yes” to? Who is asking questions on the screen?

The design appears sparse, but Valente’s lighting makes the curtains change like a month of sunsets and Davis’s design holds secrets that ask more questions than they answer.

YES gently builds in tension until it’s almost unbearable. Without discussing the ending, the tension has to break and the remarkable final scenes are as much cathartic relief as they are a beginning of a new cycle.

Yes, THE RABBLE are consistently extraordinary. YES is performance art that is layered with questions that can’t always be answered and filled with answers that we might not want to hear.

Arts House – North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Friday 1 April 2022 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 10 April 2022
Information and Bookings:

Image: Mary Helen Sassman and Dana Miltins feature in THE RABBLE’s production of YES – photo by Pier Carthew

Review: Anne-Marie Peard