The Yorkshire Post, May 1998 - Mr Yellow & his Mime over Matter...
A surgeon diagnosed a rare case of physical excellence among the street performers of York. Could it have wider medical implications? John Woodcock reports.
The audience response to Mr Yellow's performance can be as dramatic as his visual appearance. Tears, laughter, shrieks, wonderment. It's the extremes of theatre taken onto the streets & condensed into a few seconds. Whatever the reaction, his mime-based show earns him a reasonable living from passers-by in the heart of Yorks tourist belt. To some local traders he was rather to popular. They regarded him as a serious distraction who took business away from their shops. When they complained to the council, he was banished from Stonegate & found a new pitch around the corner outside a sympathetic café bar.
It was there that something even more unlikely happened to Mr Yellows alter ego, 28 year old Mark Wallis. Among the financial contributions in his bowler hat he found the business card of one of the countrys leading orthopaedic surgeons. Having observed his act from a distance, Piet De Boer saw not just a talented entertainer but a medical ideal. "He has tremendous movement, coordination & control of his body", says the consultant. "This chap sets the standards I'd like my patients to achieve. For them that's not possible but from a medical point of view his performance is fascinating."
De Boer is so impressed he plans to introduce Mr Yellow to a wider audience, & one highly-qualified in the physical dramas of the human condition. He's hired him to appear next month at a gathering of specialist involved in a series of training courses at the Leeds Medical School at which doctors & nurses will be taught techniques for treating patients with major limb injuries, from sportsmen to the old lady who falls & breaks her hip. Its being organised by the European Trauma Group, part of a world-wide organisation whose motto is " Movement is Life ~ Life is Movement ". De Boer sees Mr Yellows presence as inspirational ~ a rare example of what the body can achieve. There's a certain contradiction too because the characters rapid movements are countered by periods of prolonged stillness.
Wallis's ability to startle & captivate onlookers is as much to do with physical & mental preparations as his vivid yellow top, trousers & shoes & the matching paint he applies with a sponge. To ensure a literally smooth performance he has to shave his head at the start of each working day, which can mean more than four hours on the streets.
He trained in Bristol with a company which teaches physical theatre & circus skills, almost an instinct for him given that his parents are from fairground families & his great-grandfather was an elephant trainer in Paris. Wallis excelled in mime & 18 months ago began to develop the personality he is now so eerily familiar with he speaks of Mr Yellow in the third person. Fundamental to his ability to remain motionless for several minutes are his Yoga sessions & Tai Chi, a Chinese form of slow movement he practises every day. The combination, he says, has toned his body, given him infinitely greater balance & muscle control & enhanced his powers of concentration.
The evidence of that is borne out by observing first~time viewers of his act. Its obvious after a time that some become uncertain if Mr Yellow is real or a dummy. Then a slight robotic movement, sudden positional shift, a wink or smile breaks the spell. Its his ability to dominate his physique & emotions, to step outside of himself, which so intrigues the orthopaedic surgeon & poses the question: could such techniques be applied in some way to medical practice? "When I watch him perform I see not only a talented artist but someone who demonstrates considerable physical skills", said De Boer who works at York District Hospital & in the private sector. "The way he uses his body & body~language, those powers of coordination, are exceptional. Watching him will be an interesting exercise for my colleagues. There may be lessons to learn".
Regardless of whether such unusual talents could have some future role in the healing process of the thousands of victims of broken bones, the entertainment value of Mr Yellow is beyond doubt. Not that he always achieves the result he intends. More than one child has run away sobbing at the sight of a "statue" suddenly come to life. The character is still evolving. "He's all about imagery & I've reached the stage where I'm wondering what direction we'll take next. He may decide to speak or do acrobatics. There are times when I wonder which of us is in control."
It seems an age ago when he made up as Mr Yellow for the first time & spent the next four hours working up the courage to step outside & face the public.
An interesting case of mind over matter for the doctors to ponder.