Yellowfin

Yellowfin
Yellowfin
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

What would you do if all the fish suddenly vanished? It’s a question that would have sounded faintly ridiculous a few years ago, but as climate change grips the world in flash flooding, bush fires, and confusion over what season it actually is, a mass extinction event doesn’t feel that far off. In Marek Horn’s new play Yellowfin, however, the reason for the piscine disappearance is far from clear. The 100-minute political drama has recently begun a limited run in The Little at Southwark Playhouse, starring Joshua James, Nancy Crane, Beruce Khan, and Nicholas Day.

Calantini finds himself in front of a Senate Committee, charged with trading rare marine commodities. Still reeling from a family tragedy, he’s far from keen to talk about fish to a panel of senators who want to probe every last detail of black market fishmongering – however, that attitude won’t wash with by-the-book Marianne, Roy & Stephen (“Let the record show.”). The balance of power ebbs and flows between the interviewers and interviewee, as information about Calantini’s previous involvement in the trade gets teased out in successive sessions. But is it the truth, or an elaborate lie? And does it really matter?

Not only does the play immediately make you think of politicians sitting on their hands when it comes to proactively doing something to combat climate change, but you can’t help but be reminded of certain countries’ laissez-faire approach to the pandemic; no sense of preparation, or saving up for a rainy day, and then flailing around in search of answers when the opportunity to actually make a difference has been & gone. A government which makes a big deal of wanting to “follow the science”, without really knowing what that means – except that it will make them look good. Each senator’s behaviour is all too familiar, whether it’s Marianne’s desperate cries about finding & using the “secret knowledge”, Stephen’s eagerness to manipulate the situation to his own personal gain, or Roy’s longing for the good old days.

Though it’s a serious topic (with touches of the absurd), this is also an incredibly funny play – enhanced by excellent performances from the cast of four. Each actor has a great instinct for comedy, but it’s Joshua James who really stands out in this department, playing up Calantini’s junior status in the room with heavy doses of sarcasm, as well as making effective use of the microphones for comic effect; withering put-downs from Nancy Crane’s Marianne come a close second. Beruce Khan is brilliant at dialling up the smarm when Stephen gets involved, and Nicholas Day’s distracted Roy is a real joy when he heads off on a tangent. This all contrasts wonderfully with the more dramatic moments, as the tone shifts towards something altogether darker.

The performance space is set up in the traverse, which really makes you feel like a fly on the wall as events unfold – plus it has the added theatricality of a tennis rally, as discussions heat up between Calantini at one end and the panel at the other. Anisha Fields’ set and costume design has a really authentic feel to it, imposing a bit of authority on proceedings, and Ed Madden’s direction creatively deals with the short recesses between scenes (the sound design from Max Pappenheim also comes into play here).

On the whole, this is just the kind of night at the theatre that I like: plenty of laughs, but thought-provoking at the same time. Something to really sink your teeth into!

Yellowfin
Yellowfin
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks

My verdict? A surprisingly hilarious play about a not-so-hilarious subject, set in a dystopian future – the cast’s performances are outstanding.

Rating: 4*


Yellowfin runs at Southwark Playhouse (The Little) until 6 November 2021. Tickets are available online.

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