by Anna Jordan.
Royal Exchange Studio St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 7 March 2015.
Mon-Fri8 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 February.
Small in scale but, for all the rough action, perfectly shaped.
Neither playwright Anna Jordan not director Ned Bennett fear venturing into rough territory, which includes the space – always Spartan and eventually bare – where the action of Yen takes place. Initially it’s home for the feral lives of brothers Hench and Bobbie plus their unseen dog Taliban. Like the lads, the dog’s not unwanted, but is hardly cared-for. As in a number of modern plays, the roughness and cruelty of family life points to people’s (and dogs’) underlying yearning for affection and connection (it was often different in drama a generation or two ago).
Looking at them, it’s hard to believe these lads are 16 and 13. Yet Alex Austin and Jake Davies give superbly energetic performances, catching the difference between the responsible near-adult and the emotionally-driven child. Austin creates, too, the dignity of a 16-year old who takes the criticism while his brother has the love-gush on their mother’s rare visits from the life the still-glamorously young Maggie is evidently making with her new feller.
Sian Breckin enriches the human complexity with eventual signs of responsibility and affection beneath the quick-‘n’-easy emotions of someone still hanging on the trials of her own youth. That’s all contrasted by the outsider. Refugee from a neighbour’s, Jennifer is still entering adulthood; yet, as the hot meal she brings indicates, she has a more ordered sense of life.
Drawn to this human lion’s den by Taliban’s howls, it’s inevitable the sweet gentleness Annes Elwy offers the quiet, composed character should be smashed, ironically by events involving Taliban. When the one non-realistic moment of violence arrives and the brothers’ pent emotions burst out, the dog’s equivalent rage, confusion and hurt are represented in the surging red glow of an electric-fire.
Unseen authority steps-in. Jennifer withdraws into a quieter self-protection as a result of the violence implied, the impact on the others is to create a quiet, subdued manner where Bobbie finally seems to settle and learn something. The space, in Georgia Lowe’s apt design, becomes tidier yet is no longer any sort of home, expressing the paradox central to this gripping, superbly acted play.
Hench: Alex Austin.
Maggie: Sian Breckin.
Bobbie: Jake Davies.
Jennifer: Annes Elwy.
Director: Ned Bennett.
Designer: Georgia Lowe.
Lighting: Elliot Griggs.
Sound/Composer: Giles Thomas.
Movement: Polly Bennett.
Fight director: Pamela Donald.