Yellowfin at Southwark Playhouse
This new play is the second from Marek Horn (the first being Wild Swimming). It is set in a dystopian future, where all the fish have inexplicably disappeared from the oceans. The set up is a senate committee meeting interrogating a Mr Calantini on his previous occupation as a dealer of black market real fish. There is a lot of talk of “flakage” that people crave; that the substitute cloned beings called “squibs” fail to replicate.
The direction by Ed Madden and the stage and sound design is effective: the panel on one side of the space, Calantini on the other, the microphones giving a formality to proceedings. Nancy Crane as the senator Marianne, in a tomato-red power suit and matching pumps, exudes brittle power. Her fellow panel are the older and slightly befuddled Roy and the younger, more amoral Stephen. Joshua James as Calantini squirms and wriggles, oozing a contemptuous energy. James give his all to the role, with a lot of emotional speeches that he attacks head-on. There is a lot more to like: Nicholas Day is a joy – his comic timing is impeccable and his sonorous voice making the word “scrumptious” sound revelatory. All the cast tackle the chewy dialogue admirably.
However, the central premise is vaguely preposterous and the internal logic of the play somehow does not stand up to scrutiny. The script overly relies on official-sounding language: “speak to that”, “let the record show” are used ad nauseam, to the point where they only serve to undermine believability. The point of an official tribunal is that everyone there invests in the gravity of the situation. They take themselves and procedure seriously. But the swearing and histrionics here collapse the official feel. People in power really believe in that power – they rarely let the mask slip as they do so much here. The play skewers human greed and selfishness, and shows the absurdity of human pomp and circumstance against much more powerful forces. The revelatory glimpses of what has happened are unsettling and the language is sumptuous, building an absurd and grotesque feel. But underpinning all this is a sense that the emotional scenes do not pack the punch needed, due to the lack of true believability of its world.
Yellowfin is at Southwark Playhouse from 13th October until 6th November 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.