REVIEW – Yen (Royal Exchange)

Date: 19 february 2015
Upstaged rating: 

Just as the submission window opens for The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2015 – Manchester receives the world premiere of the 2013 winning entry written by Anna Jordan.

Yen is the tale of two neglected teenage brothers, Hench, 16 and Bobbie, 13. They live alone with their dog, Taliban who spends his days locked in their old bedroom because he once ‘bit someone on the estate’. Sometimes their alcoholic and diabetic mum descends on them, usually when she wants something, but they don’t get along with ‘minge-face Alan’ the man that she has shacked up with. The two brothers spend most of their days playing Call of Duty, watching pornography and drinking and smoking whatever they have managed to get their hands on. Hench (Alex Austin) dropped out of school and Bobbie (Jake Davies) has ADHD and quit his place at ‘The Unit’.

The two brothers have no ambition, no hope, they share a sofa bed and a t-shirt that they nicked from the charity shop. It is a well carved out, well layered story of lost childhood, love and violence – it is a commentary on the state of society.

But, it is not only this – Yen is vivid, it gets right under your skin, it is unsettling, but in a brilliant way. Anna Jordan’s writing is witty and terse, the dialogue is filthy but hilarious. It is amazing that a play which was based on a local news story about two neglected and abandoned brothers who commit a heinous crime, can produce such laughs from the audience, but it does.

All four members of the cast give remarkable performances during their debut appearances at the Royal Exchange Theatre. The two brothers Hench and Bobbie are loaded with testosterone, reminding us of caged monkeys as we take our seats in the studio, they climb the scaffolding and swing from ropes, making the most of Georgia Lowe‘s sparce but highly effective set design.

The energy between the two brothers is quite profound, tousling with each other constantly, Bobbie is loud mouthed and vulgar with a deep attachment to his hopeless mother (Sian Breckin) while Hench seems shy, suspicious and afraid of the outside world. When Jenny (Annes Elwy) barges into their flat venting concern for Taliban’s welfare, Hench is given a small glint of the world outside and a small window of hope and love.

By the end of the play my mind was doing somersaults, the characters were racing around in my head, they had stuck. Rather like Ned Bennett‘s clever cyclical direction, Hench and Bobby were trapped in a system and a way of life.

Anna Jordan’s Yen is phenomenal. It is no wonder that it won The Bruntwood Prize in 2013. Get a ticket while you still can.

Yen is running until the 7th March 2015 in The Studio at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

-Kristy Stott