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


Kate Wyver

The GuardianTramp

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