Yellowfin

Marek Horn
Jessie Anand Productions in association with Walrus Theatre
Southwark Playhouse

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Beruce Khan as Stephen, Nancy Crane as Marianne and Nicholas Day as Roy Credit: Helen Maybanks
Joshua James as Calantini Credit: Helen Maybanks
Beruce Khan as Stephen Credit: Helen Maybanks
Beruce Khan as Stephen, Nancy Crane as Marianne and Nicholas Day as Roy Credit: Helen Maybanks
Joshua James as Calantini and Nicholas Day as Roy Credit: Helen Maybanks
Nicholas Day as Roy Credit: Helen Maybanks

On Capitol Hill, a Senate Committee is in session. They are questioning a former fish trader called Calantini (Joshua James), a guy who has already been to prison for illegal trading, though his sentence was commuted because he co-operated and he is on parole now.

That’s the setting for Marek Horn’s play which takes a look into the future, to a world where the waters have risen. England and the English have gone, their king is dead, the more adaptable Dutch have survived, though their tulip fields are submerged, but in Washington, their concern is about where all the fish went. They went suddenly. How did they go? Why did they go? Where did they go? What did they know?

It is a parody Senate Committee sitting at the bench at one end of Aisha Fields’s red-carpeted traverse setting, on Christian name terms despite the formality of flags and seal behind them, but Nancy Crane’s rather scary Chairperson Marianne, Beruce Khan’s Stephen and Nicholas Day’s grey-haired Roy are no caricatures.

At the other end, Calantini faces their questioning. How were his family involved, if they were? Did his brother mix pollock with high-grade tuna in the cannery? In revenge, the Russians killed and then canned him. Calantini’s father found a way of making synthetic fish but they don’t taste the same, they can’t reproduce and they don’t alway come out right. Does the world’s last tin of tuna hold a secret that can bring the fish back?

Joshua James makes Calantini seem confrontationally honest, but that hides a deviousness that adds to the drama. Calantini may not always tell the truth but he is a realist while the politicians are hidebound by procedure and self-serving (especially Stephen, as he reveals when they are forced to take a short recess). Aging Roy doesn’t seem up to speed with developments and, in contrast to the committee’s questioning, Day shares his Anglophile memories with a rhapsodic recollection of Norfolk that is delivered delightfully.

Yellowfin doesn’t offer much physical action, but Ed Madden’s direction emphasises the drama inherent in confrontation and skilfully handles its changes of pace. It is a production that doesn’t set out to create a real world but stages a fantasy one that echoes ours with that Russian revenge and human greed expressed through a can of sashimi grade tuna.

The play’s language is lively with poetic rhythms and it is frequently funny, but this isn’t a play full of polemic. Of course it is is about the environment and what we have done to it, about exploitation of natural resources for personal gain, about the futility of our politicians. It is a script that was first drafted six years ago about issues that have become even more serious in the years since, but its satire isn’t specific, its targets very general ones.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton