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THEATRE REVIEW: Scenes from a Yellow Peril

9/10 - Nathan Joe masterfully encapsulates the Asian New Zealander identity through a series of hilarious, raw and unsettling vignettes.

The titular scenes take us through a journey of the Asian experience - interracial dating, pornography, slurs, affirmations, manifestos and hate crimes. It’s also a journey of emotions, from rage to remorse. In groundbreaking fashion, each of the scenes are brilliantly broken up with a Q+A session that blurs the line between character and actor, make-believe and reality, shattering any notion that this performance sits firmly in the genre of fiction.

The power of language is a central theme of the play. The cast radiates vulnerability. At times, lone figures stand under the harsh lighting of the stage - but it’s the audience that feels the spotlight on them, purely through the impact of spoken word. Joe’s talents as a poet translate brilliantly to the stage, his words flowing yet jarring, both lighthearted and harsh.

Of course, words don't have the same impact if they're lacking conviction. Joe’s writing is brought to life by a wickedly talented cast who fire off rapid, witty, complex lines at a breakneck speed without sacrificing any of the passion woven into the words. The pacing of the play is a marvel in itself - encouraging a rollercoaster of emotions before you’ve even finished processing the last scene.

One of the joys of seeing poetry being incorporated into theatre is the opportunity to adorn words with jaw-dropping costume and set design. Nathan Joe and his minimalist cast mostly perform clad in cleverly designed costumes that resemble a cultural armour, protecting them from the probing eyes of the audience.

Nathan Joe avoids the common pitfalls of assuming his experience as an Asian New Zealander is universal, or lumping together a collection of vague tropes. Instead, his words resonate in a myriad of different ways. Everyone will leave the ASB Waterfront Theatre having taken away something unique. It perfectly sums up why the arts are so special, showcasing the versatility of language and movement and collating them in a way that doesn’t feel gimmicky.


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