After hearing the long list of trigger warnings about the plays sensitive material, there is no denying the fact that I was slightly weary of watching Anna Jordan’s poignant drama Yen, a play that explores what it would be like to have a childhood without boundaries, or familial guidance. As someone who prefers a comedy to a drama, I was mesmerised by the talent of the four actors who made this story their own, balancing the level of dark humour perfectly with the plays more serious messages: how to cope with traumas that effect the more unfortunate of us’ lives.
The play opened with the close yet troubled relationship between the two young siblings, 13 year old ‘Bobby’ (played by Jonny Khan) and his 16 year old brother Paul/ ‘Hench’ (played by William Tillett). The strong language that these characters used at such a young age, for me, made their ‘free of boundaries’ childhoods more plausible. It was clear to the audience that Bobby embarrassed his brother, which was no surprise due to his clearly odd behaviour. One example of this that stuck in my mind was when he got angry: he ran around frantically then got on all fours and started growling like an animal, perhaps mimicking the behaviour of their dog, ‘Taliban’ (who we later found out from Bobby was named this because he was “vicious” and the colour brown). This choice of name, to me, was another indication of the childish unawareness the boys had on what and what isn’t socially appropriate.
The actors kept up an amazing level of energy, drawing the audience in and forcing them to feel connected to the characters throughout. The minimalist setting: three beige painted wooden (with a window at the centre); a distressed armchair; television set; a bare worn down mattress on the floor; and bits of litters strewn around immediately made the audience aware that these characters lived a free yet chaotic life.
Eleanor Rickenbach’s compelling performance (the actress who plays their mother Maggie) made it clear to the audience that she was a slightly inadequate figure of a mother. She was not strong enough to be there for her sons and to be the parental figure would would offer them the support that they needed.
Perhaps the character who I saw to be the ultimate game changer for the development of the story was Jennifer, the 16 year old neighbour who is the owner of the plays eponymous title, ‘Yen’. Bringing the plays theme of friendship to the table, whilst adopting a very plausible Welsh accent, Isabella Hayes managed to show off the more emotional side to the plays story line, her tender moments tugging at the audience’s heart strings.
The lack of props and change of lighting (mainly on and off to reveal night and day) and plain choice of clothing contributed to the plays realism. The help of the fast paced music that played during scene changes was perhaps a significant element that helped to keep the plays high level of energy from start to finish. A performance that will be glad to have seen.
Directed by Ellen Dennis, shown at the Nottingham New Theatre (14th Novermber 2018)