EFR - Reviews of Yen

Yen

Thu 2nd – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Ed Strang

at 09:53 on 5th Aug 2018

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Anna Jordan’s morbidly entertaining Yen was skilfully adapted by a young cast from Fourth Wall Theatre Company. The two central characters of the play are already on stage when you walk into the theatre, immediately creating a sense of intimacy between audience and cast. This is heightened by the sparse props: a single mattress is fringed only by a TV, laptop, playstation, and Dove men’s antiperspirant. The scene is thus instantly recognisable as a teenage boy’s bedroom - which it remains for the majority of the play - and one can only presume that there are a few crusty socks stuffed under the mattress.

The plot is a familiar one, yet no less dramatic because of it: two teenage half brothers struggle with poverty and absent parents, come to rely on - and despise - each other. Predictably, there is a love interest, 16 year old Jennifer (also known as Yen - the play’s namesake). We are told that Yen means ‘longing for’ in Cantonese, but unfortunately it is frequently the play that is ‘longing for’ something more. Though a thoroughly competent production, it was often the script that took precedence over the performances. Both Parker and Firoozan displayed admirable range but were let down by a tinny, screeching score of poorly-chosen songs and a binary light setting - they were either styled in a blinding white or a moody magenta hue, leading me to wonder when Ru-Ru Paul would appear on stage in a feather boa and fishnets.

That said, the limited capacity of the venue would have forced some of the staging decisions for the cast, and indeed it often heightened the claustrophobic tensions that arose throughout. The violence of the piece is masterfully offset by random points of humour - for example their dog, called ‘Taliban’, often got a round of shocked laughter - with Firoozan adapting to the role of sibling, child, and enemy admirably. The two lead actors are clearly the more skilled artists, with the supporting roles played with a banal composure. However, the complex script asks much of the cast and they do it justice enough. It is a powerful and enjoyable, if somewhat unadventurous, production.

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Martha Crass

at 10:24 on 5th Aug 2018

1agrees

0disagrees

In what could have been a restrictive venue, Fourth Wall Theatre Company unfolded a deeply tragic, darkly funny story with skill, perception and sensitivity. The production played to the advantages of its confined space to create the insular world of brothers Hench (Danny Parker) and Bobbie (Jack Firoozan), who live alone in a flat in Feltham, with just their sometimes-visiting mother Maggie (Louisa Mathieu) and their dog Taliban for company.

Something that made this play such a success was the cast’s attention to detail. Even the smallest of interactions between characters weren’t wasted, and it was perhaps these which were most skilfully played throughout; the relationship between 13-year-old Bobby and his mother was made touchingly believable thanks to the subtlety of the two actors’ physical intimacy and playfulness. Likewise, Bobbie and Hench played off each other naturally and the pacing of their dialogue was perfectly timed, with exchanges such as: ‘Ignore him, he’s got ADHD.’ ‘No I haven’t’ ‘Well he’s got Tourette’s then’ ‘Fuck you!’ ‘See?’ proving very popular with the audience.

Certain lines which were initially jocular became horribly prescient as events unfolded, and the cast gave suitable emphasis to these so they were remembered later on. Bobbie’s delight in spouting joyfully misogynistic remarks - ‘I’d blind the bitch’ - paved the way for the play’s terrible outcome, and his mother’s bitter, icily delivered line to Hench - ‘you look just like your dad’ - became indicative of how the boys were incapable of escaping the cycle of violence which permeated through their lives.

As is explained by Jennifer (Gayaneh Vlieghe), who comes into the boys’ lives brimming with good intentions and who is tenderly likened to daylight by Hench: ‘Yen’ means ‘longing...to long for something’. This is a theme which haunts this production, and it is only when Hench and Jennifer try to escape their lives in a London borough that everything fractures irreversibly.

The music was perhaps the weakest point in the production. Its first use came surprisingly late into the play, and it tended to jar with the scenes it framed; this was the case for one particularly charged scene between Hench and Jennifer and caused it to end abruptly. However, in the same transition, this continuing piece of loud, upbeat music juxtaposed brilliantly with a tragically violent scene happening off-stage.

Despite this, the production as a whole was well-executed, and the only real disappointment was that the audience wasn’t bigger.

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