By Mark Bolsover
With intriguing stylised physical performance, direction, visual design, and multimedia projection, Calarts Festival Theatre presents a meditation on art, obsession and suffering: ‘Yellow Fever’.
In the pure yellow confines of a claustrophobic artist’s studio, ‘Vincent’ (James Moorhead), an aspiring artist obsessed with the sensuous experience of colour, attempts to seduce his muse, Sienna (Megan Lewicki).
Referencing the works and, through projected recorded performance, apparently the diaries of Van Gogh, as well as (amongst others) Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, at its heart, the show is a study of the figure of the artist, and of the necessity of suffering (of mental and emotional turmoil or tumult) to art and to the creative process. It seeks to explore the ethics of the appropriation of another’s pain (—the ‘muse’), and the idea of a lack (—of genuine, personal suffering; of depth, meaning and experience) in the would-be artist—the posture (or, rather, im-posture) of the tortured artist, and, more broadly, the ethics of the ways in which we try to construct meaning in and from intrinsically meaningless, and often shallow, experience.
The show makes good use of Venue 13’s large black box space.
Allison M Keating’s direction and (especially Lewicki’s accomplished, disturbed and yet sensual) physical performance here, make it clear that the audience is viewing the events of ‘Yellow Fever’ from ‘Vincent’s’ somewhat affectedly fevered and intense perspective, his obsessions and fevered energy distorting everything he sees into a staccato and hallucinatory dance.
On the whole, the lighting design of the show works well, though the multimedia projection seemed to function here merely as a kind of supplement to the already clear cues in the dialogue, simply presenting the images of ‘Vincent’s’ rambling pseudo-poetry, and more could have been made of the projections. This was also true of Moorhead’s brief but potentially very interesting foray into live performance art, which could easily be developed. The live music element of the show also felt somewhat superfluous. Though Moorhead performed well, the reasons for the particular musical choices were not immediately clear, and these performances did little to help develop the chemistry between Moorhead and Lewicki, or move the narrative along.
Simon Parker’s dialogue is explicitly aware of the clichés and pretension that the show invokes through the figure of ‘Vincent’ and his uneasy awareness of the hollowness of his affectations to the identity of ‘the artist’, and this is played off well against Sienna’s obviously genuine emotional trauma. Indeed, the script here makes every effort to move beyond these clichés, grounding its conception of art in a notion of affectation and a certain desperate ambition, inextricably bound to banal and everyday experience.
With clear potential to develop its use of visual projection, sound, performance art and live music, ‘Yellow Fever’ is an interesting study in art and obsession, which feels, ultimately, like a promising work-in-progress.
Yellow Fever is on at Venue 13 until 23 August (excluding the 11th and 18th) 16.45 (1hr)