Writer: Marek Horn
Director: Ed Madden
With the UN Climate Change Conference in a few weeks, and the G7 summit still in our memories, there is no better time than now for ecopolitics to take centre stage. Marek Horn’s Yellowfin might have been written six years ago, but it is still as relevant today. The bleak reality of this should not escape us. It only highlights that little has been done in that time to slow down the rapid increase of climate change.
Horn establishes a straightforward dystopian world not dissimilar to one you would find in Black Mirror – ‘There were fish| And then there weren’t fish,| Simple as that.’ – but originality comes from his humour and complex analysis of language. The narrative follows four characters: three senators (Nancy Crane, Nicholas Day and Beruce Kahn), and the sarcastic Calantini (Joshua James), a man on trial for charges of trading rare marine commodities. The stage splits the audience in half. We act as a jury, flanking the court which seats the senators high at one end, and Calantini low at the other. The multi-levelled staging may seem indicative of who is in charge, but power is continuously shifting. Tensions remain high while managing to ebb and flow. So, despite it taking place entirely in one committee room on Capitol Hill, the play never loses pace.
Horn reveals his dystopia slowly and seamlessly. Intrigue is spiked with details left for later – of Calantini’s charges, of what happened to all the fish in the world – but the constructed world is never confusing. In fact, it is darkly believable. This is enhanced by the exemplar cast of four. James’s layered portrayal of an obnoxious, frustrated, knowledgeable, answerless, and grieving man is enthralling. Crane and Kahn effectively capture the power hungry, devoted bad guys who spiral as they are forced to confront the futility of their worship. And Day provides reliable humour, lightness, and complete relatability.
The lack of physical movement throughout the play is part of its point. The focus is on language; on how it constructs our perception and understanding of the world. The microphones used to play with sound and voice enhance this experience. And although it is incredibly effective, the scene in which Calantini exits, leaving the senators to spill out across the room and restructure the space is a much-needed breather. Well, it would be if the theatre was not filled with smoke. Smoking an entire cigarette works in larger venues, but Southwark Playhouse is much too small for it. The stinking claustrophobia is too real to be anything other than distracting. What’s more, at times the script’s repetitive language is so overdone it starts to lose impact: most noticeably during Marianne’s questioning monologue.
Fortunately, the play wraps up to perfection. After a climax of philosophising, with overt criticisms of our society’s behaviour, it would be easy to end with melodrama or a neat unbuyable roundup. Horn delivers considerably more and the final scenes epitomise Yellowfin’s humour which functions, of course to make us laugh, but also to encourage us to honestly consider some serious ecological and societal issues. A principal one being, quite plainly, human greed and selfishness.
Runs until 6 November 2021