Gritty Theatre is living up to its name with their current performance of Anna Jordan’s Yen. If you want a dark play that weaves classic tragic love stories with modern themes – Yen is the perfect piece to choose to bring to life. However, the uncomfortable feeling left by the play is blurred as it is difficult to tell if it is coming from an invaluable reminder of the closeness of poverty and conjuring empathy and understanding for those struggling; or if the play is truly able to shake the accusations of serving up the downtrodden to the wealthy as poverty porn. This duality was made more complex by the fact the play is set in Chelmsley Wood in Birmingham, less than 15 miles from the performance space.
Yen is an at times funny, at points heart wrenching analysis of the damage that can be done by family and close friends
In Yen a pair of brothers Bobbie aged 13 and Hench 16, have fallen through the cracks of family, friends and society. They, along with their dog Taliban, are living though each day as it comes, with porn, gaming and pinching booze. Their mother sometimes visits by passing out in front of the house and drinking all the beer. Life goes on in this unstable subversion of the nuclear family, until Jenny from across the street visits. Just when you think the piece is swerving into a romance, the undercurrent of violence and repressed fury bubbles to the surface, leaving the shell-shocked remnants left to pick up the pieces and start again.
There were a surprising number of slips and flubs – that will iron out with practice – such as peculiar pacing, clumsy movement. These held down some of the early slower scenes, but eventually the piece found it’s stride. The four actors handled the material well; particularly the shifts from poorly displayed love to violence. Blake Heaven and Dominic Thompson had great lopsided chemistry as the dysfunctional brothers. Every time Demelza O’Sullivan, the boy’s mother, came on stage she was impossible to take your eyes off, taking complete ownership of this wrecking ball of a mother who had her sons completely wrapped her little finger, but didn’t see the damage she left in her wake. Tilly Farrell Whitehouse’s slow-burn performance of Jenny had a few truly captivating and heart-breaking moments.
The cast struggled with some of poorly scripted moments of the text, doing their best to carry off them off with some believability, and they mostly succeeded – but quite key points of the play were a bit of a struggle to accept.
Yen is an at times funny, at points heart wrenching analysis of the damage that can be done by family and close friends, and how that follows us though life. Gritty Theatre’s show stays on your mind, but not necessarily for the right reasons.