Yellow Pears by Swept Up Theatre

Fri 16th – Sun 18th August 2013

reviews

James Bell

at 10:14 on 19th Aug 2013

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‘Yellow Pears,’ billed as a “big-hearted tale of two outsiders whose bizarre yet binding friendship creates a home for two people who are always on the wrong side of the door” got off to a shaky start. As we filed in, the two characters Raz (Rose McPhilemy) and Itsy (India Crawford) crowed bizarre non sequitirs and cajoled the audience. Things didn’t improve and this inauspicious beginning set the tone for the performance as a whole, for ‘Yellow Pears’ is inexplicable, frustratingly disjointed and, in the end, without any clear guiding force or over-arching point.

The play revolves around a friendship sparked when Itsy applies for a job at Raz’s market stall, laden with her family treasures. The premise sets up many opportunities for comedy: there is Itsy’s predilection for management speak, the pair’s social awkwardness and the bittersweet absurdity of Raz’s inability to let go of the past. However these moments mostly fall flat as the script repeatedly fails to capitalise fully on any of these situations. That is not to say that there are not a few successful moments of comedy. The ministry officials were perfectly observed caricatures that poked gentle fun at local government bureaucrats, and Crawford in particular made good use of physical comedy. In general, though, the moments of comedy were simply too few and far between.

But the problems didn’t end there. The opening scene showed the two women sorting through a mass of their possessions and posting them to various corners of the globe. The reasons for this are not immediately clear and unfortunately are no clearer by the end of the performance, making the plot difficult to engage with. Several other questions occur: why, if Raz does not want to sell any of her possessions, does she have a market stall in the first place? What of her murky family history that is, after all, the driving force of the narrative? Again, the situation is ripe for a well constructed and believable plot, but once more the production fails to take advantage of this.

‘Yellow Pears’ has moments of comedic sparkle and keenly observed social commentary but in the end it is simply not confident enough to achieve anything more engaging.

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Alex Wilson

at 13:56 on 20th Aug 2013

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With ‘Yellow Pears’, I have difficulty forming an opinion of it, largely because of its confusing genre. It has the obvious feel of a children’s show, yet it has not quite the simplistic script, patronising address, nor sheer slapstick one might expect – it is rather more subtle than this, in defiance of being pigeonholed as a children’s show. Add some jargon and plot details drawn from a caricature of the world of marketing and sales, and you have a play. One that is potentially friendly for the entire family, but may occasionally alienate children, just as the childlike elements may entail a glazing over on the faces of the adult audience.

However, the narrative was imaginative and fortunately free of cliché, which would seem a particular pitfall of children’s shows. It revolves around two vendors, Itsy and Raz (Rose Mcphilemy and India Crawford), on a market stall, and the antique artefacts upon it. One vendor ends by satisfying her aspiration to be an explorer, the other is drawn into the machinations of Sales Officer 15, a delightfully sugary sweet villain, who takes the humanity and enjoyment out of trade by transporting this unsuspecting vendor into the sales ministry. The result of these divergent paths is that the two can only briefly be separated, and reunite behind their eclectic, if rather ramshackle, stall. Happy ever after.

Characterisation was strong—clear-cut, if not especially nuanced. There was a lot of clowning and breaking out into dance routines, which provided its credentials as a children’s show. However, there was also a sense of restraint here. This owed less to the actors' self-consciousness than an attempt to play down the silliness, in keeping with the devised script, which had a commendable fluidity and sophisticated turns of phrase – perhaps out-of-place in a show predominantly for children. Itsy and Raz were adept at role-playing, switching between different voices, postures and idiosyncrasies. They had very good chemistry, which is at the heart of the show. This chemistry extended to their audience sensitivity, when the fourth wall became distinctly flimsy in some nice interactive moments, especially in the opening welcome.

The stage was interestingly furnished with all the market paraphernalia, though they distinctly said “homemade”. Costume had a similar limitation, giving the impression of being thrown together without a great deal of thought from the actors’ wardrobes. Of course, the energetic acting goes some way to compensate for this, but a more interesting stage look, contrasting eccentric artefact stand with clinical ministry.

My most significant wrangle with the play, however, is its confusion about whom it intends to target, while I would also have appreciated a more climactic moment of reunion of our two friends, Itsy and Raz. This is not to detract however from the joyfulness of the performers, which I trust the whole family will find contagious.

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