By Luke Blackstock
Fourth Wall Theatre’s Yen created a truly immersive experience with the audience seated onstage. Staged in the traverse, it turned Durham’s Assembly Rooms from what is a grand, although potentially intimidating space, into a dingy, grubby looking flat in West London. Kudos to all the production team for the set design.
Anna Jordan’s play is well directed by Hetty Hodgson and Alice Clarke. The setting of the play feels a world away from the grandiose surroundings of the theatre in which is performed. The play plays on the idea that you can never really know what goes on behind closed doors. As the play starts, one walks onto the stage through a black door, into the set, with a mattress on the floor, and the characters Bobbie (Jack Firoozan) and Hench (Danny Parker) fooling around. With a playlist of a 2011 school disco in the background, a bit of Macklemore and some Dizzee Rascal, I was intruigued before the play had even begun. Yen is not a play for the faint-hearted or easily offended.
The performances of all four cast members must be praised, especially as there must have been a huge amount of lines to learn and they all seemed faultless and always on cue. All the characters had moments of light and shade, and despite their actions one can see good and bad in all of them. Jack Firoozan as Bobbie was exceptional in his role, playing a thirteen-year-old that although abrasive and annoying at times, is still idealistic, vulnerable and childlike, even if he thinks he’s a man. The confidence Firoozan must have is also unbelievable; he had flashed his behind in the first ten minutes, and from the very beginning, his facial expressions alone draw you into what is a vastly engaging performance.
Louisa Mathieu as Jenny, Bobbie and Hench’s diabetic mother was incredibly convincing and her apathy towards her oldest born son in the first part of the play was chilling and perturbing. She succeeds in portraying a woman with seemingly more care for herself and feeding her alcoholism than her children, but is still able to maintain an at times unhealthy relationship with her youngest son.
Gayaneh Vlieghe plays the character of Jennifer with incredible dignity and conviction. Whether the relatively strong-willed nature of the performance means that the cyclical undertone to the play is lost is a question for debate. However, I felt that presenting the character in this way was justified and the fantastic performance did more to help this.
The performances of all four actors should be praised, in a production that I sometimes forgot was student theatre. It was Danny Parker as Hench that stood out for me. Commanding when onstage, Parker creates a multi-layered character who poses deep questions about the idea of young male masculinity in the twenty-first century. Firoozan also does this incredibly well as Bobbie, encompassing a type of white working class toxic masculinity that is hardly ever shown on stage. Yet it is Parker’s characterisation of Hench – his inability to articulate his feelings and his lack of appetite to talk about them anyway – that made me see why suicide is the biggest killer of young men. Although at times deliberately ambiguous, Parker gives the play a firm standpoint in the nature or nurture debate that runs through the play.
Emma-Louise Howell did a fine job as Movement director, with all the scenes, especially those with Hench and Jennifer being beautifully choreographed. Freddy Sherwood also did a wonderful job as Tech Director, with light and sounds ques being perfect.
This play sums up what good theatre should be. An incredibly visceral experience, Yen isn’t something I’ll forget easily. Yen means longing, and I will be longing to see it again; a truly professional production from the all of the prod team and all the actors.
Photograph: MLD Photography & Videography