Auckland Theatre Company, SquareSums&Co, and Oriental Maidens
Dir. Jane Yonge
Oscillating between hilarious and painful, Scenes from a Yellow Peril is a deep dive into Asian identity and questions what that means. Yellow Peril presents snapshots of the Asian diaspora’s experiences of racism and privilege in Aotearoa by structuring the show in fragmented scenes rather than like a longform continuous play. Each scene was its own mixture of gut-punching, manic, raunchy, and everything in between—a meta reflection of the contradictions in being Asian.
The performers chant in the introduction, “This is rage” and “Do not call it a play”, which very much sets up the tone of the show. It most definitely is not your traditional play, and it most definitely is a “flurry of rage”. The aggression of the opening is cathartic. It gives us an escape from the typical ‘quiet Asian’ stereotype. When the performers shout in unison, “We are massive, growing, and growing”, you’re seeing the immigrant narrative being reclaimed from xenophobic sentiments, and it’s emotional to behold.
‘Love In A Time Of Colonisation’ hits a little different. We are all too familiar with the feeling of expecting a white partner (or even friend) to defend us from microaggressions (because surely they’re different from other white people). Nathan Joe very eloquently paints this exact awkward scenario and our hearts sink with every word. Confronted with how often we just let these microaggressions slip by, ‘Colonisation’ pops the bubble on our post-race fantasies with some humour to take the sting off reality.
‘My Ancestors Crossed Oceans To Be Here And All I Have To Show For It Is This Bubble Tea’ strikes a very poignant chord of longing. Being third-culture kids, it often feels like we exist in a space of our own, tethered between nations and cultures. There’s a desire and longing to go ‘home’ but we’re not entirely sure where that home is; where is your place of belonging when you feel like we don’t belong at all? As Joe says, “It’s a strange paradox to live in a body that does not feel like yours. White people call it dissociation, I just call it being Asian.”
All sorts of emotions arose out of the scene ‘They Shoot Chinamen, Don’t They?’ but none of them were unfamiliar, and this was perhaps the most disappointing realisation. This scene carries on the tone from ‘Ancestors’, with the question “Why did you come knowing what you would lose?” still on our minds. It is so powerful to humanise the victims of hate crimes; it is so painful to think they had been forgotten but their perpetrators remembered. The live music in the background effectively conveys the continually darkening tone of the poem. As we reach the crescendo of the piece, as the individuals come to the awful realisation of their imminent murder, the silence is deafening.
The stage setup was particularly effective in creating a space that felt deconstructed and constantly shifting—much like the show itself. The complete stripping back of the set in the final scene of the show was most enjoyable. It almost felt like the end-credit scene in a movie, where the character on screen is telling you the show is over and to leave the theatre. It felt strange to sit in the theatre and still be watching someone perform, but the performance also felt much more intimate and vulnerable, with everything laid bare.
“Tell them it’s our turn. Yes. Our turn.” and Yellow Peril does exactly that to tell you yes, it is our turn: let yourself be unapologetically messy, embarrassed, introspective, funny, angry, spiteful, proud—be unashamed to feel everything.