Even before she’d finished reading the first scene of YEN’s script, actor Meg Clarke was hooked.
“It jumped out to me as a script I absolutely had to be a part of,” Clarke tells Theatre People.“I found it quite funny in a very dark humour kind of way, but also incredibly astute and truthful. It definitely brought a tear to the eye and hit a chord very close to home. It is a script that’s full of surprises. But when I reached the end I thought, “Thank god somebody wrote about this, I am doing this play!”
Written by Anna Jordan and winner of the Bruntwood Prize, YEN is currently having its Australian premiere at Kings Cross Theatre in a production directed by Lucy Clements. It tells the story of two teenage boys living a bleak existence in a west London housing estate. Their lives change when their new neighbour, Welsh teenager Jennifer (played by Clarke), arrives.
“[She] demands to know why they haven’t been caring for their dog, who she has noticed they keep locked in a back room without food or care,” Clarke explains. “Jenny introduces a completely new world to the boys filled with nurture and empathy, but that’s only where the story begins. What follows are the repercussions of a society where young boys are raised without nurture, empathy, or understanding.”
So, why is YEN an important work to bring to the Australian stage in 2018?
“Because I think right now it’s more important than ever to be talking about how we raise young boys, while also raising questions around the psychology of why and how – for lack of a better word – bad things happen,” Clarke says. “It’s hard to talk about fully without giving too much away, but what seems to be the overwhelming response is how affected audiences have been about the content in the show, and how many questions they walk out with.”
Clarke says YEN is “a play about our society right now”.
“It’s a no frills exploration of youth,” she says. “Even though it’s set in London, you could swap out the Feltham housing commission location for a flat in Redfern or Surry Hills and tell the exact same story.”
She talks about some of the Australian audiences’ responses to YEN to date.
“On our first show, the lights came up to a crowd of teary, stunned patrons and it really felt like we had all shared something special. It’s such an amazing feeling,” Clarke says.
“There was one night when two lovely ladies asked to take a photo with the cast because they had been so affected by the piece and, in particular, a lovely man walked up to our producer after the show and claimed, ‘That was the most moving piece of theatre I’ve ever seen, and I’m 65!’
“It really is an authentic piece of theatre that is about the story, first and foremost. It feels really special to share this story with a room full of people, you end up with this really raw human connectivity. My very close friend, a fellow actor, said to me once that if you can help one person in the room to feel less alone, you’ve done your job – and I feel like we’ve done that.”
Clarke describes it as having been “absolutely wonderful” working on YEN with director Lucy Clements.
“Lucy is what I would describe as a dream director”, she says, “She is super collaborative. It really felt like we all had permission to bring our own ideas and visions for the characters, and Lucy was the ever-trustworthy captain of the ship, steering and guiding us all in the right direction.
“She also built an incredibly strong sense of a team and ensemble and has continued that feeling throughout the production weeks. It always felt very safe. From the moment I chatted to Lucy in my audition, it was very clear she had a vision for the play and she knew what story she wanted to tell, which has been fabulous because we have all been able to play and explore so much within that.”
And who should come along to see this production?
“I think a lot of young men should be seeing this show,” Clarke says. “That being said, it’s had a profound impact on people from all backgrounds and ages. I would say to check the trigger warnings first.”
And is there a key message Clarke hopes audiences take away from YEN?
“I think the main message is, how are we responsible for the actions of youths within our society? Maybe we could all improve if we could all be less judgemental and [as] empathetic as Jenny.”
YEN – SEASON DETAILS
Presented by New Ghosts Theatre Company in association with KXT bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company
Dates: Playing now until 13 October, 2018
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Level 2, Kings Cross Hotel, 244/248 William Street, Kings Cross)
Tickets: $15 – $35 + booking fees | newghoststheatre.com