“Don’t marry nothing dark”
As part of winning the Genesis Award, a programme supporting creatives in the “early stages of their professional lives”, the Young Vic offers winners the chance to put their talents to work in its smaller places. This year, it is the turn of director Nancy Medina who is mounting a short run of Dael Orlandersmith’s 2002 play Yellowman in the intimate space of the Clare, though without an official press night.
It’s a brutal but fascinating look at racism within the black community, as Eugene and Alma grow up in 1970s South Carolina, negotiating the difficulties that come from having parents with different skin tones. The darker-skinned Alma is firmly on the wrong side of the tracks whist Eugene, lighter-skinned but derogatorily referred to as ‘yellow’, has a wealthier family, but one who experiences no less prejudice.
What emerges is a kind of class war, as Eugene and Alma defy societal pressures to become friends and then lovers but remain unable to shake off the full impact of the bigotry that surrounds them. Christopher Colquhoun and Nicola Hughes play the lovers but also the vast array of supporting characters and Medina ensures there’s an intelligent clarity between them all, indicating the importance accorded to their status in this world.
Hughes in particular is stunning as the impossibly dignified Alma, rising to the challenge of Max John’s in-the-round set by utterly captivating the audience. And Nao Nagai’s subtly effective lighting played well with its mirrored surface, focusing the attention on Orlandersmith’s undoubted gift for strikingly poetic dialogue and the challenge of its subject matter.