Theatre review: Yellingbo by Tee O’Neill

It’s just over twenty years since the Tampa affair, when the Howard government changed Australia’s treatment of refugees from a welcoming stance to offshore processing and detention. It was a strategy to dissuade people smugglers they said. Since that time thousands of people fleeing persecution in their home countries have been locked up by successive Australian governments, often left languishing indefinitely. It is topic debated at protests and dinner parties alike. In Yellingbo Tee O’Neill brings the issue literally into the lounge room in her ingeniously crafted play running at La Mama in Carlton until 20th March.

Loving couple Danny (Jeremy Stanford) and Kaye (Fiona Macleod) live an ordinary life in the suburbs until Danny’s old girlfriend Cat (Jude Beaumont) turns up unexpectedly after having been out of contact overseas for many years. It appears we are about to become enmeshed in an awkward love triangle.

Cat’s arrival triggers an unravelling of secrets and baring of scars that will change three lives forever. Once exposed, secrets cannot be rewound. They test our trust in one another, challenge our values and can reveal whether our rhetoric is true to our behaviour.

Yellingbo is multilayered and impassioned. The lives of the three characters on stage are interwoven and bound, yet fragile. O’Neill balances the emotional tension that ripples across the stage with the relief of dark wit perfectly.

How generous are we really toward people seeking asylum? If confronted with this dilemma in your personal life – literally in your living room – a choice to help, or not – how would you respond?

I was riveted from start to finish.