Yellowfin review – shocking testimony from a world with empty oceans

Southwark Playhouse, London
Three senators at a hearing in Washington DC try to find out where all the fish have gone in Marek Horn’s smart but deliberately frustrating one-room play

Tuna has never had so much stage time. Marek Horn’s new play Yellowfin takes us into a world close to ours, a couple of decades after all the fish have disappeared and everyone is obsessed with finding out why. But it isn’t really about the fish. With the same whip-smart dialogue as Horn’s brilliant debut, Wild Swimming, Yellowfin is about false truths, desperate hopes and the myths we build around them.

At one end of a pristine US courtroom, sit three senators (Nancy Crane, Nicholas Day, Beruce Khan), smartly dressed, their papers stacked neatly in front of them. On the other side of the space, lower down and slightly ragged, sits Calantini (Joshua James), a former dodgy fish dealer reluctantly being questioned about his slippery past.

Order quickly dissipates, revealing the governmental structure as a desperate farce. Even as the food chain comes apart, the senators are stuck in their formal processes and procedures, the language curling back in on itself in a way that is pointedly, deliberately frustrating. Directed by Ed Madden, the characters’ unravelling feels completely natural.

Beruce Khan and Nancy Crane.
A desperate farce … Beruce Khan and Nancy Crane. Photograph: Helen Maybanks

With our understanding of the world reduced to this space – all the action takes place in this one setting – the global disaster is fed to us on a minute level. A single can of unbranded tuna becomes the most important thing in the room, holding the colossal weight of hope in a world of chaos. It’s a smart team that have been able to make such an absurd situation feel so plausible.

Every so often there is a line that electrifies the room, letting slip something shocking. Each time, it is said in a manner so offhand that it makes you wonder how much else in this world has crumbled. But that’s where the action being confined to a single space feels limiting. Though we learn about outside events as the play progresses, the action is largely retrospective; the piece draws the outline of a fascinating history but doesn’t let us experience it for ourselves. Yellowfin has a smart set-up but the impact of the action always feels one-step removed.

• At Southwark Playhouse, London, until 6 November

Contributor

Kate Wyver

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Living bridges and supper from sewage: can ancient fixes save our crisis-torn world?
From underground aqueducts to tree-bridges and fish that love sewage, indigenous customs could save the planet – but are under threat. Landscape architect Julia Watson shares her ‘lo-TEK’ vision

Oliver Wainwright

27, Mar, 2020 @4:40 PM

Article image
Sea of Shadows review – porpoise documentary slips through the net
National Geographic’s film about the endangered vaquita – victim of Mexican gangsters’ search for ‘the cocaine of the seas’ – is a wasted opportunity

Peter Bradshaw

26, Sep, 2019 @4:00 PM

Article image
The Islands and the Whales review – a community poisoned
Pamela Anderson’s appearance in this sombre documentary on hunting in the Faroe Islands is almost the least surreal thing in it

Peter Bradshaw

29, Mar, 2018 @8:00 AM

Article image
Ama-San review – a deep dive into Japan's fisherwomen culture
Cláudia Varejão’s camera embark’s on an enigmatic and occasionally baffling study of a hypnotic world

Leslie Felperin

17, May, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
Of Fish and Foe review – gripping tale of seals, salmon and saboteurs
Clashes between pro-wildlife protesters and Scottish net fishers over the shooting of predators are the focus of this lively documentary

Leslie Felperin

25, Jul, 2019 @10:00 AM

Article image
Angry review – six blasts of rage and fantasy from Philip Ridley
Georgie Henley and Tyrone Huntley star in a swaggering production that seldom deepens into anything meaningful

Lyn Gardner

20, Feb, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
Islander: A New Musical review – two voices bring a bustling world to life
Bethany Tennick and Kirsty Findlay weave theatrical magic in this entrancing tale of the last child left on a remote island

Miriam Gillinson

06, Oct, 2019 @3:13 PM

Article image
To protect oceans from microplastics the UK must work with Europe | Mary Creagh
Mary Creagh: The microbead pollution contaminating our marine life does not respect borders. As UK ministers meet on World Oceans Day they must look to find solutions by working with our neighbours and partners in Europe

Mary Creagh

08, Jun, 2016 @10:15 AM

Article image
UK brands act to cut catch of 'near-threatened' yellowfin tuna
Voluntary action of companies including Tesco and Princes aims to put pressure on regulatory body to tackle overfishing

Karen McVeigh

15, Oct, 2020 @8:18 AM

Article image
UK supermarkets back call to cut yellowfin tuna catches by 20%
Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S, Morrisons and Co-op join major seafood brands and WWF in campaign to stop Indian Ocean fish stocks collapsing

Rebecca Smithers

13, Apr, 2016 @9:10 AM