Yellow Moon: The Ballad of Leila and Lee

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Ingrid Jendrzejewski

at 10:24 on 26th Aug 2011

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Yellow Moon: The Ballad of Leila and Lee tells the story of two kids who live on the margins of society who find themselves involved in a murder. Their tale is told through an adept blending of dialogue, narration, poetry and original, live music performed on guitar and violin.

Instead of being bleak and depressing, Yellow Moon is fresh, compassionate and warm. It is as humorous and uplifting as it is tragic and dark. Lee may use coarse language and commit some grisly acts and Leila may cut herself and hide away in her hoodie refusing to speak, but the company conspires to make the audience genuinely care about what happens to these two young, lost individuals. They have struck just the right balance in juxtaposing what is ugly in the lives of Leila and Lee with what is worth celebrating.

The score is beautiful and well-crafted, infusing the show with momentum, energy and a dreamy, lyrical quality. Composers Becky Ripley and David Ridley remain on stage throughout most of the show. Along with the chorus of narrators who slip in and out of various roles, the score and the presence of the musicians on stage helps elevate the stories of these two young people into the realms of folk legend and myth. This is storytelling in its finest form.

The company, In Short Productions, was founded in 2010 by Bristol University students. There were times when I was aware that I was watching very good student actors instead of professionals, but there was never a moment when I didn’t feel that I was in safe hands. The performances are polished, the action is well paced and the staging is simple and effective. Lee and Leila are perfectly cast and have a compelling, heartbreaking chemistry.

The company has paid close attention to detail when it comes to movement, timing, delivery and music. This has paid off in spades. Yellow Moon flows from beginning to end, never losing the audience’s attention. The staging is deliberate and carefully considered, but always feels natural and never over-engineered.

The show is performed in a space with audience on three sides of the stage. This makes the story feel more intimate, but audience members on the sides do tend to get neglected from time to time. It is worth arriving early to nab a seat in the centre section.

Simple, unpretentious and beautiful, Yellow Moon is a real treat. It is well worth the price of a ticket.

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Alexandra Sayers

at 12:17 on 26th Aug 2011

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David Greig’s ‘Yellow Moon: The Ballad of Leila and Lee’ is a masterpiece of a play, charting the growing relationship between the two eponymous protagonists on the run from a murder enquiry. It can be seen in all its beautiful, poignant finery in directors Fiona Mackinnon’s and Eleanor Crouch’s production. Live music from two extremely talented musicians greets expectant viewers, and continues to add creative sparks throughout the piece when the instruments are used for such diverse purposes as a gun shot and the screeching-halt of a 4x4. In fact the whole play is spilling with creative fecundity: my favourite example being a piece of tin foil reflected off a lone green light to create the rippling, eery effect of an early-morning lake. The staging, too, is effective: three narrators take any part of the stage-space in any given moment, and burst with energy which is certainly infectious. Their narration is in the conditional perfect tense, speculative rather than definite, and so they take on dual roles, both as story-tellers and investigative journalist-types, trying to work out the story with the help of clues rather than hard facts. In this way, they are simultaneously within and without the story: like the roped net covering the back wall of the stage, they weave in and out with perfect delicacy and sensitivity, sometimes filling in the gaps, sometimes staying well out (and literally crouching away from) Leila and Lee’s dialogue. All three narrators’ temporary transformations into other characters are remarkable, as physical movement and accents are changed with a fluidity rarely seen so effectively.

Having these narrators adds a distinct depth to the piece, as it becomes not only a story of two run-away young adults, but an investigation into what is real and what is a story, and whether the two can ever exist simultaneously. The answer, rather than being simply worked out, is left overwhelmingly open: at one point in the story, Leila stops and looks around her surroundings. In a dramatic rendering of her thoughts, she asks, ‘What if all this were real?’, and the audience is thrown into dubious disarray: is Leila simply imagining this whole story-within-a-story, or does it hold some kind of fictional reality? It is a pleasantly vexing question to be left with, one that resounds hours - and I imagine days - after the lights have gone down.

Special credit must be given to Kyle Major who plays Lee, and Helen Cooper who plays Leila. Major captures the bravado of youth; Cooper the timidity; and at their most dramatically engaging, the two switch between these extremes in scenes that reflect their profound mutual understanding and intimacy. Their relationship has the common premise of bad, rebellious boy meets good, quiet girl and falls in love. But far from being tried and tested, this production lifts these two out from all commonality into their own, magically secret world, which it is a pleasure to be part of for the evening.

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