Yvette's a typical teenage girl: chasing boys, fighting with her mother, growing comfortable with her own sexuality. She can be bubbly and giggly, or can retreat into herself – cutting off the world as teenagers often do. But a man's moved into her mother's home, a man she's been told to call her "uncle". The man wants to spend time alone with Yvette. We can see how this is going to end.
The knowledge of what will surely happen hangs over Urielle Klein-Mekongo's disturbing one-woman show. But there's another thing too: Yvette is black, and she makes clear from the outset that her culture and background are significant influences on her life. These two features of Yvette's story – the colour of her skin, and the childhood abuse she's suffered – are of course separate, and ordinarily I'd suggest that the play ought to focus on just one of these sizeable themes. But the lesson of Yvette, I think, is that life doesn't work like that; both these facts are central to Yvette's identity, and we can't neglect either of them without neglecting her.
With the whole story told in flashback, much of what we learn is suggested rather than explained. We discover that Yvette has tangled with the authorities in later life, but exactly what happened is never described; intelligently, Klein-Mekongo's self-penned script instead homes in on the childhood experiences which led her there. The biggest of those experiences is a terrible one, but again, the play paints a more rounded picture than a single defining event. We witness a wince-inducing humiliation at the hands of a boy who's just not into her… and soon understand how Yvette's broken confidence leaves her open to the malevolent advances of her "uncle".
Klein-Mekongo is instantly convincing as the young Yvette, effervescent but naïve, dropping hints of inner trauma which become clearer and more strident as events play out. The performance is punctuated by disturbing, turbulent scene changes, mirroring the anguish inside Yvette's own mind; and it's defined by visual set-pieces, showing us the things Yvette doesn't have the words to tell. A scene where she figuratively paints herself white is particularly searing, and the encounter with her "uncle" is impossible to look away from, a masterfully rich application of a simple theatrical device.
But Yvette is defined as much by a soundscape as it is by its imagery, as Klein-Mekongo builds up emotive, poetic tracks using a microphone and loop pedal on stage. This technique is hovering on the edge of cliché these days, but here there's no doubting its artistic validity: the disturbing, repetitive patterns formed with the loop pedal are direct insights into Yvette's troubled mind. One particularly haunting scene sees a conversation with her "uncle" constructed line by line, until its full chilling menace is revealed. But there are joyful rhythms too, with an early dance revealing the free spirit Yvette has lost, the equivalent of posing with a hairbrush-microphone in front of a mirror.
There's a bold mix of styles and themes in Yvette, but it does all cohere into a convincing and compelling whole; and in telling a broad, multi-faceted story, it looks beyond a single abuser and challenges us all. At one point, Yvette worries – while experimenting with make-up – that the world doesn't love her "because her canvas is black". Did that sense of isolation leave her vulnerable to evil? There are no simple answers, but the question is a thought-provoking and troubling one.