The Girl in the Yellow Dress
Challenging, intelligent exploration of neurosis, guilt and obsession
This article is from 2010.
Anyone who has reflected on the capacity of words to slip loose from meaning somewhere between speaker and listener will also have realised that this ambivalence in language can easily be exploited in power relationships. This idea is explored to fascinating and sometimes shocking effect in Malcolm Purkey’s production of Craig Higginson’s play.
A nervy, privileged, disaffected TEFL teacher (Marianne Oldham) greets a new student, a young Congolese emigrant apparently recovering from political and personal trauma (Nat Ramabulana) at her Paris flat for the first of a series of increasingly disquieting English conversational lessons. In between remarks about the vagaries of language, and the role of confession in the student/teacher relationship, each of these two reveal some alarming agendas beneath an ostensibly stable power structure. Class, race, colonialism and the complex relationship between these issues and sexuality become the eventual focus of their series of meetings.
The piece eventually becomes an exploration of neurosis, guilt and obsession with a good deal to say about the self-deceptions of both white liberalism and black radical identity. Higginson’s slick, precise dialogue builds the tension nicely, and is wonderfully delivered by the performers, whose sense of physical business feels tightly honed around the text. There is, quite plainly, a formidable intellect at play under this piece, which is unafraid of the complexity of the issues raised, and if, just once or twice, the logic of the plotting slips, this is barely noticeable under the skillfully-built tension. This piece challenges our received assumptions about ideology, language and sexuality to strong effect and comes recommended to thoughtful audiences.
Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 29 Aug (not 16, 23), times vary, £15–£17 (£11–£12).