YEN transferred to the Royal Court, London, in January 2016.
A selection of reviews can be found below.
★★★★ The Guardian, Michael Billington:
‘Ned Bennett’s production [...] faultlessly captures the play’s mix of violence and virtue and is acted with absolute conviction. Alex Austin and Jake Davies as the siblings both suggest an intelligence and creativity crushed by hopeless circumstances, Annes Elwy plays their Welsh saviour with a radiant sincerity that never slides into sentimentality, and Sian Breckin lends their mother a blowsy sensuality reminiscent of Helen in A Taste of Honey. Jordan’s impressive play owes a good deal, in fact, to Shelagh Delaney’s prototype in its faith in the power of love to unlock human potential.
★★★★ The Independent, Paul Taylor:
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 […] 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.
★★★★ Time Out, Alice Saville:
How do you get under the skin of a broken family? Anna Jordan’s completely devastating, Bruntwood Prize-winning play is a masterclass in doing just that. Ned Bennett’s production reunites the cast who performed its original run at Royal Exchange, Manchester – and their intimacy shows.
Jake Davies and Alex Austin unleash stunningly natural performances as two teenage brothers who can’t be in the same room without picking at each other like scabs, opening old wounds and letting the blood run. Their alcoholic mother has moved in with her new boyfriend, leaving the kids to marinate in a fug of dirty washing, Xbox games and hardcore porn. In Georgia Lowe’s ingenious, abstracted design, the stage is a huge arena that the two teenage boys run and leap across, thin and agile as spiders – it echoes with the ghosts of the people who’ve left them.
★★★★ The Stage, Natasha Tripney:
The relationship between the two brothers is the play’s greatest strength. Their banter is often incredibly funny and is full of little detonations. It’s impeccably delivered too, by Alex Austin and Jack Davies. Austin’s is a performance of quiet and containment. Occasionally he gets this dark far-away look in his eyes. Davies, in contrast, is garrulous and puppy-like, young for his years. There’s a volatile quality to both of them, the potential to erupt like a shaken-up can of lager. […] Jennifer [is] compelling played by Annes Elwy.
★★★★★ British Theatre Guide, Jessica Wretlind:
The same cast from the Manchester run, these four actors have an authentic chemistry that goes from simmering to the boil in seconds. Alex Austin’s Hench is a haunted young man whose downcast demeanour hides a terrifying intensity, whilst Jake Davies’s Bobbie is youthfully bullish and untamed in his emotions. His adoration of their wretched mother Maggie (Sian Breckin) is a tale of pitiful naivety, yet Breckin manages to muster our sympathy through rations of tenderness and unspoken guilt.
Annes Elwy plays a delicate Jenny, but she has ghosts of her own and a strong resilience that makes her an equal with the boys. Her relationship with Hench is the promise of renewal that drives the play.
Director Ned Bennett does wonderful justice to this script, which never loses momentum during the intense 100 minutes with no interval. With the gift of a phenomenal cast, Bennett captures so much comedy that the dark existence of these characters explodes with colour. Typified by Yen, Anna Jordan’s catalogue of work is pioneering a trend for candid contemporary narrative. Her characters are abundantly flawed while still empathetic, and their relationship with the modern world is a marriage of dark comedy and struggle. Her plays are hugely important. See for yourself.
★★★★ The Arts Desk, Aleks Sierz:
The acting is uniformly impressive, from Alex Austin’s downcast and deeply damaged Hench to Jake Davies’s manic but fragile Bobbie; and from Annes Elwy’s Jenny, whose willingness to heal is in sharp contrast to Sian Breckin’s Maggie, who seems quite capable of wrecking everything. Everyone is convincing and moving. What’s beautiful here is not the tawdry tale so much as the humane balance of hope and hopelessness, love and lovelessness, in a place where pain is deeply expressive and tenderness can be as disfiguring as violence. Exceptional. I now long to see more plays from Jordan’s pen.
★★★★★ The Upcoming, Stuart Boyland:
On top of two excellent performances (Austin’s brooding torment counterpointed perfectly by Davies’ chirpy pubescent bravado), the setting serves to draw immediate emotional investment as, through the staging is sparse but innovative, it makes the pair’s predicament a visceral reality. […]
Cutting through this darkness, initially out of concern for the welfare of the boys’ canine charge, Jenny (Annes Elwy, perfectly tempering disarming sweetness with a palpable fragility) introduces compassion to their environment to ultimately cataclysmic effect.
Carefully weighted ingredients in place, Jordan’s proven skill as a creator of authentic, empathetic characters and forensic eye for contemporary cultural detail is masterfully brought to bear. Another trademark sees her exploration of the warped moralities of the “millennial” generation and the redemptive, discombobulating power of love culminate in a deeply affecting and nerve-shredding finale to a vital, triumphant piece of must-see theatre.