Yen, Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, London, review: Compassionate and witty study of growing up alone

Ned Bennett's splendid production is keenly alive to the play's flashes of bleak humour

Paul Taylor
Tuesday 26 January 2016 13:57 GMT
Sian Breckin
Sian Breckin (Richard Davenport)

Anna Jordan won the 2013 Bruntwood Prize with this terrifying, witty, and compassionate study of the awful penalties of growing up alone and without boundaries. Sixteen year old Hench and thirteen year old Bobbie have been left to their own devices by their alcoholic and diabetic mother who's gone to live with her latest boyfriend. The filthy Feltham flat has become a twilight world of shooting people on PlayStation and watching porn. The boys have one T-shirt between them and a neglected dog called Taliban imprisoned in the next room. Jake Davies's excellent Bobbie is hyperactive, evidently Mummy's favourite, cocky but fragile. Alex Austin's haunting Hench is scrawny, introverted and given to violent nightmares.

Then Jennifer, a dog-loving Welsh teenager from a neighbouring block of flats, played by the delightful if slightly too posh Annes Elwy, calls to complain about the mistreatment of Taliban. She's recently lost her father and, in her loneliness, befriends the boys and seems to open up a world of finer aspirations (there's an exquisitely touching scene where she shows Hench what she responds to sexually). Played on a traverse set with the boys swinging on zoo-like bars at either end, Ned Bennett's splendid production is keenly alive to the flashes of bleak humour, the sense of impending violence, and the tragedy of desperate emotional denial and inarticulacy.

To 13 February; 0207 565 5000

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