I honestly don’t know where to start with Yen. I’ve waited for as long as possible to write it because immediately after leaving, I felt more like I’d been hit with a truck and less like a literate human able to formulate any kind of a vaguely rational response.
It’s just…So absolutely and entirely horrible. Two hours is a long time to watch children be destroyed by the world which they have no choice but to exist in, and every minute of it somehow manages to hurt in a new way. Essentially everything that happens in this play is terrible and painful, to the extent that I can count the moments of genuine levity on one hand. The problem is, there are so many sections that feel like they’re positive, but when you take them in context they just acquire an entirely new horror. A son sleeping with his mother is sweet, but not if the mother is drunk, hypoglycaemic and unconscious on a dirty mattress in an empty flat. In some ways, these moments are more horrendous than the violence or the rage because they just hurt.
There’s a push and pull threading through this show. The brothers seem to exist in a hopeless state, waiting for nothing and expecting nothing. The interludes in the text work beautifully, with time passing for no reason and with nothing to show for it. They’re going nowhere and nothing is happening, and that lack of future is such a delicate thing to express.
Into this stagnant world comes Jennifer (/Jenny/Jen/Yen), full of optimism and positivity. With her she brings an absolute belief that all of this can be fixed, and it starts with her taking away a mistreated dog. This feels like such an infuriating misreading of the situation, because how can she possibly understand? Who is she to come in and rescue the dog, of all things? The naivety and lack of perspective are difficult to just sit with, but that’s surely the point. I often feel like we instinctively make judgements as soon as we meet characters, but all we’re actually seeing is another character doing what we’re so frequently guilty of. Maybe there’s just something all too uncomfortable in seeing that side of ourselves staring back at us, but I think it goes a bit further.
To whatever extent, everyone is a product of their environment or of their world. Equally, our environment is a product of us. What this means is that we are entirely complicit in the creation of the world that has forced the boys to be who they are. There we sit, watching Yen’s optimism slip into the hypocritical, but we’re just as bad. How often do we see children die on the news and look the other way? Walk past a homeless person and feel that guilt or sympathy a second too late? And yet, a dog suffers in a film, or worse in real life, and we have none of the same detachment. They’re the problem, and we’re the problem and the world is awful, but that’s why Yen is so radiant.