ABSURDIST THEATRE REINVIGORATED
THE YETI TRILOGY
Written by Natalie Medlock, Thomas Sainsbury & Daniel Musgrove
Directed by Sophie Roberts
Produced by Martyn Wood
The Moving Theatre Company
at BATS Theatre (Out Of Site), Cnr Cuba & Dixon, Wellington
From 27 Aug 2013 to 31 Aug 2013
Reviewed by John Smythe, 28 Aug 2013
The long white fur of Natalie Medlock's delightful comic creation, Yeti Himalaya, first graced our stages in the 2011 Comedy Festival in a show called Dan is Dead / I am Yeti. Last year, also in the Comedy Festival, we saw the sequel: Yeti is Dead / I am Tom.
Now The Yeti Trilogy revisits those works in revised form – the first part distilled; the second part radically cut and reworked – and adds a third act, which takes in some of what used to be in Part Two, brings it all to a dramatic climax and adds a component that involves us in deciding how the story will be resolved.
As before, the comedy works best where the absurdist premise is developed according to a real world logic, with authentic characterisations and deep-felt emotions compelling us to believe in it all. The consciously corny comic performances that afflicted last year's effort and eclipsed any hint of substance have disappeared, and the company is back on track with their use of the mythical to comment on the actual.
Part one is narrated by Yeti (Medlock) in the trademark ‘Nepalling' accent which is at once endearing and often so heavy – within the action, too – that it distracts us from the wit and import of her perspective as we try to decipher it. She has had to “reave the Himarayas” because of the “irregal fur twade” and is “rooking” for real Kiwis settle down with.
Thomas Sainsbury and Yvette Parsons reprise Westie couple Tom and Yvette, whose empty, purposeless, cash-strapped lives are brightened by the arrival of Yeti as a flatmate. While her lack of an income does nothing to solve their financial woes, they choose her ahead of Tom's mother, who is driving a PledgeMe Campaign to fund the web-series that will manifest Tom's true talent and worth. Yeah, right.
At the end of yet another unfulfilling day working at Rainbow's End, Yvette loves to stroke, cuddle and sing with Yeti. Tom, however, whose job at JB Hi Fi is doomed, tries to suppress his attraction to Yeti. But when she in turn is turned on by Chewbacca in a Star Wars DVD and he draws attention to his being a Hans Solo lookalike the chemistry is undeniable … See it to believe it.
Along with the tightening of the intertwining relationship threads, we get satirical commentary on the screen industry, exacerbated by Yeti's meteoric rise as a hot young film-maker and darling of “The Warner Brothers Film Commission of New Zealand”. She is genuinely thrilled at the promise of “two percent in her back end”.
Despite his despair as a failed film-maker, the fatal attraction between Tom and Yeti escalates, and Yvette's revenge dalliance with Dave Dobbyn brings things to a shocking climax …
Sainsbury's intentionally dire Dobbyn impersonation and Tom's sustained howl of despair to cover the scene-change into Part Two are rare moments where the actor behind the character is consciously exposed. Otherwise, despite the obviously theatrical devices used to convey the story, the characters and the ‘truths' of their existence are sustained. And, necessarily, Tom takes over the narration.
Yeti is in a coma and Tom, at her hospital bedside, is in despair. Beyond that, in many respects, Part Two is radically different – and vastly improved – from last year's show. There is no male nurse called Dennis Potter Okinawa or magic flute-playing leprechaun called Shaun. Dan Musgrove only appears as Tom's ‘cougar' Mother – played in full-on Monty Python style – still on her quest to fund the ‘webisodes'. The core dramatic conflict builds inexorably around Yeti's tenuous grip on life versus the enticingly lucrative fur trade.
Yvette, meanwhile, is in prison. The scriptwriting choices made here, in exploring her character's way of coping, seem gratuitously gross and do nothing to put moral pressure on an emotionally conflicted Tom, which is what the story requires. As the clock spins on, the question of whether to switch Yeti off becomes more and more unavoidable ...
There are some very funny sequences in the hospital, which I will not detail here. But it cannot be a spoiler to reveal that Yeti survives and revives, given there is a third part to come in the Trilogy. An amusing PledgeMe Promo video brings us to interval and, as the publicity blurb quips, we “ain't seen nothing Yeti”.
A painted panel upstage suggests we are in the Himalayas for Part Three, where Yeti – our narrator once more – relishes the bliss of liberty. And who should turn up but her ‘ex', a male yeti called Simon, played by Musgrove in a Nordic accent, which lends an appropriate tone to the depressive nature he is trying to overcome. Their reunion is delightfully touching …
Meanwhile back in West Auckland, Tom is attempting to settle with and for an ankle-braceletted Yvette. Although the anticipated financial windfall from the online webisodes have not materialised (surprise, surprise) – prompting more insightful commentary on how things are for “us creative types” – attempts are made to celebrate Tom's 40th birthday … But hitting this milestone is a wake-up call for Tom ...
A tragic discovery in the mountains high above Kathmandu devastates Yeti and brings her closer to Simon. Their lives take a whole new turn with the very survival of their species at stake. And here we get a deeply poignant insight into the timeless conflict between finding personal fulfilment and working for ‘the greater good'.
Crimes of passion, the excesses of the skin trade and the survival of a species all come together in a spectacular way that, again, has to be seen to be believed. And I repeat, what makes the comedy work so well is the cast's total commitment to their ‘reality' in a situation involving extreme jeopardy.
In this longer form, Parsons' Yvette character gets into a bit of a shallow ‘let's be shocking' rut but the contrast between her capacity to love and her self-defeating behaviours is well delineated, and the psychopathic glaze that comes over her when equipped with a weapon is profoundly disturbing.
Sainsbury's Tom is a compelling psychological study, all the stronger for its minimalist style in performance. Musgrove's Mum is rather one-note, though well articulated, but his Simon is deeply rooted in readily recognised states of being.
The apparent lightness of touch Medlock brings to Yeti Himalaya belies an exquisite comedic skill that – as with the best clowns and commedia exponents – finds great eloquence in the full range of emotional states.
The ‘resolution' phase comes as a total surprise and it may be a spoiler to reveal its exact nature. Suffice to say that the surreality of the story to date is reflected in the evocation of a daytime TV format that in itself is a surreal commentary on human behaviour and reeks of a latter-day Coliseum. It is also redolent of whodunnits, where the detective sums up the situation before revealing the culprit, or Shakespearean comedies, where some Duke or other determines the fate of the miscreants. But in this case, with Chris Parker's ‘Dr Chris' at the helm, it is us, the audience, who are tasked with the responsibility of determining their fates. (I assume three different epilogues await the outcome.)
Director Sophie Roberts has ensured that for all the whimsy and flourishes that attend the actors' largely inspired performances, it all turns around a dramatic core of credible consequence. What could so easily have lapsed into wacky entertainment for a coterie of friends has transcended the sum of its parts to reward us with a memorable commentary on human nature and the values – or lack of them – that drive our behaviours.
The Yeti Trilogy reinvigorates the absurdist theatre genre. Enjoy!
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See also reviews by:
Laurie Atkinson (The Dominion Post);
Matt Baker (TheatreScenes - the Auckland Theatre Blog);