The Yellow Wallpaper
Presented by: Yellow Cat Collective
Katherine Mansfield House & Garden, 29th Jul 2021
Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus
I expect you, like me, have never wondered what happens when a wallpaper realises it is being watched. However, this fascinating “three-course meal” of domestic history, spoken word, and sensory dance experience seeks to answer that very question.
On arrival at Katherine Mansfield House, audience members have 15 minutes to enjoy the hors d’oeuvres, the lovingly recreated rooms of the home of one of New Zealand’s most famous writers. We’re told that rooms in the house have been reclad in facsimiles of the original wallpaper that neatly sets the scene for what’s to come and helps make this venue an inspired choice.
Once settled in an upstairs room, the petite audience of 10 is treated to the sumptuous main course, a reading from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 19th-century short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. This is the tale of an unnamed narrator who is prescribed bed rest in an old country estate and eventually grows fond of her cage-like room and its garish wallpaper. The lush and poetic descriptions of the patterns and shapes on the walls that surround the narrator are beautifully read by Liz Butler, who wears a suitably yellow dress, and conjure unexpectedly creative imagery from something as mundane as a wall covering.
Dessert is taken in a different room and, like all good sweet treats, it tickles the senses with its scent of spicy incense, hypnotic music (Aaron Dupuis), and soft, yellow light (Matilde Vadseth Furholm). Two dancers (Abi Sucsy and Ellen Butler) employ sensuous and sinuous movement – often in harmony, occasionally in conflict, sometimes together, sometimes apart – to bring the spirit of the yellow wallpaper alive.
With creative direction from Butler and Andrew Ford, Yellow Cat Collective have pulled off the seemingly impossible – making wallpaper interesting. Having sampled their tasting plate of creativity, I’m left hungry for the full buffet of storytelling they presented at this year’s Fringe Festival to describe “the sprawling waves of optic horror” that so enthralled the unnamed narrator.