The unhinged darkness of Yearwalk is both disturbing and confusing. Hauntingly-masked actors move jerkily around the audience as they wait for the performance to start, preparing us for the unnerving nature of this play.
The premise of the show is odd, to say the least, but ingenious and inventive in a way we don’t often see. This student-written play takes folklore and bends it into all kinds of weird and wonderful shapes, with chilling music and dance throughout. The set is bare, but this is hardly noticed as we move so quickly from one tale to the next. We are hauled from Arabian nights to Irish cottages and the actors shift without hesitation from evil stepmothers to wood spirits. Yearwalk pulls together folktales from different cultures, with a twist, while always following the journey of a peasant through the cruel night-time forest.
Shifting from one side of the world to the other has its difficulties. At times accents seem muddled, particularly in the Irish cottage where Irish accents slowly slip into something vaguely rural, with a hint of confused American. Accents aside, generally the transition from culture to culture was relatively smooth, though sometimes the stories were perhaps not well known enough to pick up on any clever twist or interpretation. The story also struggles to find an easy way to slip in humour. The comedy elements of the play are at times a bit awkward and they don’t entirely fit in with the dark demeanour of the overall production, and could perhaps be subtler, or left out entirely. Surreal political humour in the socialist Cinderella scene is great, but prepares us for something that just doesn’t emerge later on.
Like the storyline, the acting is at times a bit inconsistent. All actors involved play multiple parts, which adds to the movement between cultures, however it also becomes clear that some actors are far better suited for some parts than others, and often the chorused lines seemed shaky. There is also a surreal moment when a baby’s head popped off; nobody was really sure if it was meant to happen.
That said, there are some impressive performances and incredibly skilful dance routines, accompanied by suitably eerie music. Overall, while the performance is at times shaky, this play has been beautifully concocted, both deeply unnatural, yet peeling back nature to reveal its simplest, coldest form.