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The Yellow Wagtail at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre – Review

The Yellow WagtailThe Yellow Wagtail is so naturalistic I could not help but wonder if the play is at least partly autobiographical, or at least drawn from the experiences of people close to the writer. The audience bears witness to what is essentially a private conversation between Henry (Tom Dixon) and Lily (Hermione Halpin), sprinkled with what appear to be flashbacks of previous key moments in their relationship. A palpable awkwardness persists to the end as what some years ago may have been lovebirds sharing anything and everything is now arguably prying into another person’s private affairs.

As I say, the audience becomes somewhat complicit in this play, watching the sort of deep and meaningful talk between people that would only happen behind closed doors. With flashbacks abound, the scene changes start off spirited and energetic but get gradually unhurried and sluggish. In my humble opinion, this seems an artistic decision – a metaphor, if you will, for the relationship between the two petering out. It would be too harsh to call it a metaphor for the play itself, which, although short, is not a minute longer than it is required to be to tell a complete and compelling story.

There’s a valiant attempt at finding beauty in the mundane, particularly where such typical aspirations for young couples who discover a mutual desire to spend the rest of their lives together are asserted.

Here, this couple’s dreams for the future (as they were at the time) are so strikingly positive that I got the impression that the plot was, at some stage, going to take a turn for the worse, and we were in for a tragedy or critical incident of a life-changing nature. There was indeed a critical incident, revealed eventually, but I would add that I didn’t and wouldn’t have guessed it given a hundred chances to predict what it was.

Fast-paced without feeling rushed, there’s decent character development not just in the two people on stage, but in the close friends and relatives that become known only to the audience through descriptions within the script. It is possible, even likely, that the audience’s perception of these unseen characters is tainted by Henry and Lily’s personal preferences and dislikes. But the focus, to the show’s credit, never ceases to deviate from the pair. The show’s climax, meanwhile, is hardly a West End musical ending, but it’s very believable nonetheless. There is, I would say, at least something in this play that almost anyone can relate to.

This is one of those plays where what isn’t said debatably counts as much as what is scripted. Both actors more than prove their mettle in fleshing out their characters as we observe their body language as well as their words. Subtle yet engaging, the narrative from start to finish was valid and credible, insofar that there wasn’t anything that stood out as being out of place or not very feasible in the real world. Devoid of melodrama, this is a moving and absorbing piece of theatre – and we can never be reminded too many times not to fear change.

With no reservations to report, I can only favourably recommend this delightful and pragmatic production to anyone interested in some food for thought. One more thing: I’m not sure whether this was some sort of response to badly behaved audience members (generally speaking), but when Henry’s mobile phone rang more than once as the play went on (as scripted), dissipating the emotional power of poignant moments, I couldn’t help but smile: whether intentional or not, this play is so good it even has the upper hand on discourteous theatre patrons.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

1 Woman, 1 Man, 1 Room, 1 Hour.
Focusing on raw and honest human interaction, what happens when an old love comes back into your life?
As Henry and Lilly learn about each other’s circumstances, their own choices are placed under the magnifying glass.
How easy it is to fall back into old habits and be swept up in the past? Even if that means forgetting who you are now?
A play about the loss of youth, freedom, adventure, love and people. For anyone who has ever been in love and fallen out of it.

Cast: Hermione Halpin and Tom Dixon

Written by Hermione Halpin
Directed by Eloise Lally
Set/Costume Design by Laura Cuervo
Booking to Sunday 5th June 2016


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