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“Yen” Review

10/10 would Yen again


Before I laud this performance, I want to make something clear. From both an actor’s, director’s and audience’s perspective, Yen is a tough play. Sexual violence, jarring profanity and racism, a 16-year-old going nuts having wet the bed… Yen has it all. Yet there wasn’t a single awkward chair squeak or creased brow, as the cast and crew handled this shocking but beautiful piece masterfully. Take the first sexual encounter between the teens Hench and Jenny- what had potential to be painfully awkward was genuinely moving and, in retrospect of the whole play, heart wrenching.

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Maggie (Louisa Mathieu) exhibiting a mothering 101 alongside her supportive sons Bobby (Jack Firoozan) (left) and Hench (Danny Parker) (right)

The craft with which these moments were handled is partly credit to the skill of the actors. Jack Firoozan’s dynamism when playing Bobby, was incredible. His part terrier, part street-urchin physicality and energy in the first half orchestrated the play’s tempo, yet he managed to contrast this with a fractured placidity in the second. Danny Parker, playing Hench, simply was the role. The manner in which he conveyed the frustration, awkwardness, brokenness and downright surrendered carelessness (seemingly without breaking a sweat), was simply “mesmerising" (I may have a slight man-crush on Danny).

Gayaneh Vlieghe also showed enviable control, joining the dots between Jenny’s initial innocence in the first half to the heart-breaking cracked inwardness of the second. Lastly, but certainly not least, Louisa Mathieu, as destructive and hopeless mother, Maggie, was so convincing, so hateful yet pitiful, and seemingly so… middle-aged, I had the NSPCC on standby. Luckily, Louisa’s mother, who was sat next to me, assured me she was both a student and normally ‘much nicer than that’.

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Gayaneh Vlieghe playing with both a playstation controller and audience member's hearts onstage

On the subject of Louisa’s mum, a strength that she pointed out and I will happily agree with, nay steal, was pacing. Before the play even started, when Skrillex’s Bangarang accompanied Bobby picking his feet and sipping from a carton of milk, you knew this was going to be a play of contrasts of pace. But a contrast the directors (Hetty Hodgson and Alice Clark) handled perfectly. When the play slowed, the actor’s dialogue picked up the plot’s slack, and when needing to capture the passing of time, some well choreographed physical theatre reflected it aptly. Although, I would say, in a play of little to no faults, some of the choreographed moments seemed a little awkward and out of tune with the rest of the action. But that is nit-picking in Danny Parker’s beautiful hair… shit.

Yen was, simply put, a pleasure to watch. I think Durham is lucky to have two directors who, with shrugging coolness, will happily and skilfully take on what others would not. Yet Yen, and Boys before that, are not plays that are shocking for shocking’s sake, the themes and issues they deal with are relevant and relatable. Personally, I do not want familiarity, leave the classics to the RSC, and give me more Yen!