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BWW Review: YELLOWFIN, Southwark Playhouse

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In a world that looks like ours but isn't, the fish have all gone - and nobody knows why

BWW Review: YELLOWFIN, Southwark Playhouse

BWW Review: YELLOWFIN, Southwark Playhouse The fish have all gone. One day they were there in the seas and oceans, the next not there - and nobody knows why. The world gets by on ersatz, lab grown "fish" that exist somewhere between being alive and being dead - and taste like that too. Mr Calantini has served time for trading illegally in real fish (which still turn up occasionally, preserved in tins) and has been summoned to Capitol Hill to be cross-examined by senators keen to find out what went wrong and to navigate a way back to putting real fish on their plates.

At first, Marek Horn's new play is a little annoying. There are the microphones, with which we're all familiar from Michael Corleone's testimony in The Godfather Part Two, leant into with precisely the right quantum of affectation, but the swearing? The absence of lawyers? The Fifth Amendment forgotten? But the set up is merely the armature Horn uses to launch flights of fancy satirising politics, consumerism and trade, environmental catastrophe casting an ever-present shadow. Who knew so much could ride in the belly of a fish?

Not that the fish matter a great deal. Horn's language dips and soars as explanations (some 'true' and some 'false') fill in the background of a world that looks like ours, but clearly isn't (at least not yet), water having inundated previously habitable lands. It's not just geography that been transformed, so too have personalities, lusts for forbidden fruit continually bubbling through strait-laced veneers, centres of souls as much as centres of power bobbing along in a world afloat on uncertainty.

Horn's script is served well by the ensemble cast. Nicholas Day and Beruce Khan represent old and new school senators, one distracted and nostalgic, the other a little dim but ambitious, Day getting plenty of laughs with his killer comic timing. Nancy Crane affects the lean efficiency in chairing the hearing that her tailored suit and Hillaryish hairdo suggests, but she's as greedily transfixed as anyone by the thought that the fish might be brought back to cure the planet of the consequences of man's foolishness. Joshua James' Calantini holds them in the palm of his hand, at once charismatic and contemptuous, arrogant and vulnerable, plausible and risible in his defence of his actions. He even looks a bit like Al Pacino at times...

But James's tour-de-force first hour sees him off stage for some time in the second half of the play and, with him goes much of the pyrotechnic language and future history invention. Ironically, it's when director, Ed Madden, brings his cast out from behind their desks that the narrative becomes bogged down a little, the ideas not so startling and, like many plays post-lockdown, one feels 15 minutes could be cut without losing any narrative drive nor clarity of character.

Nevertheless, it is much to the credit of this venue that both its spaces are given over to new (or nearly new) shows, while, ten minutes walk away, The National Theatre is reviving East is East yet again. The is Marek Horn's second produced script and there are times when that shows, but there's also plenty to convince me that this is a playwright to watch.

Yellowfin is at Southwark Playhouse until 6 November

Photo Helen Maybanks


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