Yana Alana takes the stage with her mental health cabaret, Between The Cracks. It's exposing for both body and soul. Daniel Perks reviews:

I feel raw and exposed in Yana Alana’s presence. She may be naked and blue from neck to toe, but I’m the one who feels vulnerable. She is my role model on stage.

Yana (the alter ego of Sarah Ward) stands her ground and delivers exquisite vocal contortions that masquerade as flawless cabaret numbers. She speaks openly about her mental health. She even removes her oversized blue wig and breaks down on stage.

So why do I feel undressed by her stare? Why do I bow my head sheepishly when she looks my way? Why do I shrink back into my seat when she dangles philosophically profound questions in front of the audience?

Because I have never confronted myself in the way that Yana does on a daily basis. She peers Beneath The Cracks and reveals her flaws for the world. In doing so, she becomes flawless. She becomes powerful. She represents an ideal.

Yet despite all this idolatry, I am struck by how similar Yana is to a mêlée of female 90s British comedians. Her tone – Hyacinth Bucket (Patricia Routledge). Her speech – Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders). Her dancing – Geraldine Granger (Dawn French). Although her original lyrics speak of anal play, sexual orientation and not being defined by the person you’re fucking. Yana has subverted both the ladette and the lady that the above comedians capitalise upon.

She does it with faux operatic top notes and a growling, bluesy bass. She pops pills, ending with Valium, and drawls out “As If We Never Said Goodbye” in a combination of coloratura and comatose. She is Norma Desmond’s inner demons made manifest.

But don’t be mistaken by these topics that are both shocking and sobering – Between The Cracks is still very much the Yana Alana show. Every so often, a mobile goes off and accompanist Louise rudely takes a phone call. The surprise on Yana’s face says it all – someone would dare to have a life outside of her set, dare to engage with others before putting her entitled needs first.

It’s all tongue in cheek of course, but it does strike a chord. This naked, vulnerable, blue woman is analogised to a cloud of depression, the selfish aspect of mental health that constantly demands attention like a spoilt child. Other people, other lives, are unimportant – such a demanding disease must always be the centre of attention.

It’s also a cry for help. Without the backing group, Yana is left to tackle her demons solo. She puts on a mask of confidence like make-up – the bravado that she can do it all alone under the spotlight. And she has a good go at improvising her set, with the help of a hapless audience member who is completely hopeless at playing the piano.

But none of us can do it alone.

It’s a trick that we quickly see through, not least because we recognise it in our own behaviour. The gloom of friendship, the despair of isolation. Quick, Yana, make light of it, tell a joke – killing yourself means that someone will do a tribute of you. That’s how to be famous…

Between The Cracks is a show all about a naked blue woman. So yes, it is self-indulgent. But it’s also sincere and exposing. By ending with the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’, Yana opens up her soul in a way that makes us feel emotionally naked. Forget blue breasts or faux wigs. Forget glittery sparkle or blue body paint that I am still trying to wash off. Yana selflessly reveals her true self in her songs and gives a vocal performance that is both beautiful and bold.

“There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in”

 

 

★★★★☆

Between The Cracks runs at Assembly Checkpoint as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018 until 26 August 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.