You don’t need to be familiar with the original text to understand the collective’s interpretation. The story follows an unnamed woman (played by Abi Sucsy) diagnosed with hysteria. During her “rest treatment,” she is forbidden from writing and is kept in the nursery of her physician husband’s (Karwin Pérez) summer home. In want of stimulus, the woman becomes both disturbed and obsessed with the room’s hideous yellow wallpaper. As she descends into madness she sees the patterns move and discovers a woman creeping behind the unsettling print.
Mechanical and repetitive movement illustrates the woman’s monotonous routine enforced by John, her husband and her nurse (Liz Butler). Alone, Sucsy leaps from her bed to solve the pattern’s riddle. She presses herself against the wall in urgency and writhes to mimic the ugly motifs. Sucsy is extremely expressive. She evokes panic with wide eyes. Her contemporary dance style emphasises momentum and fills the space with sweeping grace.
Dressed in mustard-yellow, Ellen Morgan Butler appears as the woman in the wallpaper. Emotionless, she creeps along the walls and haunts our protagonist. I expected the ghostly being to appear menacing but later we learn she is trapped. Our woman makes it her mission to free her. The dreamy music shifts to a deep beat. In a dramatic and synchronised dance, the pair share a smile. They understand each other. Our protagonist is the woman in the wallpaper; suffocated and silenced by society.
The performance is cleverly paced. It slowly builds tension throughout and releases in the final dance. What starts with a small tear in the wallpaper becomes a satisfying explosion of yellow litter. Joined by the paper-woman, they manically rip the dreadful coverings down. No show would be exactly the same, I think to myself.
The mime-acting between John and his wife verges on pantomime. An argument is shown through freeze-frame. Although the poses make great use of levels and depth, the performers subtly shake their heads and hands. Full commitment to the tableau style could add effect to the arc of the argument and make this static scene stand out from Sucsy’s free-flowing scenes.
The use of space is incredibly smart. The small audience is seated in the room with her. All four walls of the Inverlochy Art School studio are covered with muddy-yellow paper. We endure the ugliness of the room with her. Narration of the woman’s secret diary entries share her disdain for the wallpaper. When the woman describes the paper’s sickly scent, sage is lit and the smell of burning fills the space. It is a powerful way to bring the audience further into the woman’s world. Being able to see the tech team light the sage detracts from the illusion but it is hard to avoid in the small space.
Yellow Cat Collective’s Fringe season has finished but you can catch the creators panel discussion about separating art from the artist at Katherine Mansfield House in July. Their performance of The Yellow Wallpaper will return in November as part of the 2021 Verb Festival.