The bad reviews are supposed to be the fun ones – you get to pull out all your sharpest prose, your most venomous similes, and let loose. So why does everything I have to say about Yunyu’s Twisted Tales feel more like kicking a puppy?
Part of it is down to the obvious commitment from everyone involved; there was clearly a great deal of love put into the Twisted Tales, and a great deal of time. The passion is clear, but unfortunately the quality isn’t equally evident.
The show is built around fairy tales, promising to reinterpret the familiar into something more sinister. As a concept, it’s strong; the original Grimm Brothers tales were far more brutal than their Disney readings, and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes still delights older, more cynical children. Hell, there’s enough psychodrama in Sleeping Beauty alone to keep you up at night if you look closely enough.
Sadly, Yunyu’s interpretations were too vague and opaque to be unsettling. Delivering her takes on stories like Cinderella and Goldilocks, along with more modern fairy tales like Dorothy (of the Wizard of Oz), the lyrics were indecipherable to an unfamiliar audience; if she hadn’t teased or back-announced them, it would be difficult to tell one tale from another.
That was a minor irritation, though. Barring the over-enthusiastic use of Evanescence-style guitars, the music was fun, and diverse enough to reflect the many stories of the night. Kudos to the drummer and the keyboardist/vibraphone player for adding some spice to proceedings; a subtle change in style from behind the kit made an enormous difference, and the surprising use of vibes offered a surprising variety to the band’s sound.
Less tolerable, though, were the awkward passages in between songs. Yunyu is clearly still a little bit green as a performer, and lacked the kind of stage presence that her central role requires. Her attempts to be dark and dramatic came off tacky and adolescent, promising a confronting evening and failing to deliver even the slightest challenge. American McGee’s Alice did the goth-y, smeared-mascara take of Alice in Wonderland already, and with the black humour that is so necessary. Twisted Tales came off too serious and too tame. The only moment of real shock the show offered came when Yunyu implied that the killing of Jamie Bulger was a kind of real-world fairy tale, and that was shocking more for being so crass than any kind of meaningful attack on a taboo.
There’s a lot of growing up to do for Yunyu yet. She has a decent voice, and has assembled a solid group of collaborators – particular praise should go to those responsible for the animations accompanying each song, especially for Dorothy. Her presentation, her subject manner and her stage presence, aren’t yet mature enough to demand attention. On the broad Carriageworks’ Bay 20 stage, removed from the members of her band, she looked isolated and small.
The only thing missing is practice; a tighter backing band, better prepared between-song banter, and clearer storytelling which can be refined with time. And since there’s clearly no shortage of enthusiasm for this project, I expect to see that growth soon. I’ll be interested to see what’s on the other side.