Unquestionable clarity

21 April 2019

Powerful, responsible, precise – Nathan Dunn praises excellence in Yen

Yen is gritty. It’s violent. It’s loud. It’s fierce. It’s unforgiving and unmerciful. It’s also honest. It’s also real. It’s also desperate. 

Unfortunately, it’s also edgy – which, when combined with the rest of its characteristics, is naturally capable of drawing in a crowd of thespians giddy to gawp at the next edition of poverty porn to play out for their viewing pleasure. Fortunately, the acute understanding demonstrated by this production makes it devoid of such irresponsibility.

As far as arguments about authenticity and who can tell what story go, it’s abundantly clear for the 100 plus minutes that the performers on stage that they are deeply lost inside this world, despite not having experienced it. A clich├ęd acting commendation, but in this instance it’s worth remarking.

Of course, they have the luxury of the escape that curtain call provides alongside the gratification of audience admiration, but their exactitude is justification enough (if they ever needed it) for telling this story. Despite the play focusing on things other than class, it certainly permeates the piece. The questioning of ownership over art that’s so deeply rooted in class is one which should rage on, though sometimes good art is just good art – and as long as it’s respected, allowances can (should?) be made.

Tom Kingman’s performance as Bobbie is electrically un-tempered. Oscar Sadler’s Hench is impeccably nuanced. Eliza Beresford offers a hauntingly vivid portrayal of human wreckage with piercing precision and Olivia Holmes’ Jennifer is painted with an intricacy both beautifully devastating in her poise and frighteningly accurate in her conviction.

The excellence of these performances is only accentuated by Matt Owen’s astonishingly clinical understanding and reimagining of the Anna Jordan’s text, best typified in his transitions – a technical tour de force. There’s a demonstration of remarkable theatrical fluency in these scene changes that can only be commended further when considering they are often such an obstacle to overcome. Owen overcomes triumphantly – keenly demonstrating the relevance of media and how it informs the boys understanding. When left to their own devices and atrociously neglected, their teachers and parents become TV and porn.

Uncharacteristically, there are some examples of an inconsistent attention to detail. We are told they are playing Black Ops when they are clearly playing Call of Duty 3. An Apple Mac seems an odd choice of laptop for two abandoned brothers who share one t-shirt between them. Despite its successes, the play does seem to slightly dismantle itself in the closing stages too. Jordan’s structure dissolves the stakes perhaps too early and this becomes problematic in this production – the final twenty minutes feel more like an after-thought than the gripping drama it once was. Perhaps the responsibility of this technical issue lies more in the assembling of the narrative. I challenge Pound of Flesh to consider this still, as their efforts for the vast majority of the play suggest they’re capable of resolving such issues.

Yen is a sobering exposure of the damage of trauma on Britain’s neglected youth that begs questions of cause and responsibility. I don’t have the answers, but the question is presented with an unquestionable clarity.

@noffmag / [email protected]

Photo credit: Beatrice Debney