23 November 2021
YES SO I SAID YES (Finborough Theatre) Review
This is a very tricky review to write because I want to say as little about the plot as possible. David Ireland was clearly going for shock value here, so I don’t want to spoil it in any way.
The last (and only other) play of Ireland I saw was “Cyprus Avenue” at the Royal Court a few years ago. Re-reading my own review, it seems I called that play “uncomfortable”, which is certainly was. Well, brace yourselves: Yes So I Said Yes is uncomfortable on steroids. That said, with the former, I felt that the brutality and the shock were necessary and crucial to illustrating Ireland’s point about violence in Northern Ireland. With the latter, In contrast, the harm (for lack of a better word) kept piling up, but, to me anyway, it felt gratuitous. It wasn’t necessary…
Let me clarify. Obviously a playwright is entitled to choose an allegory and run with it. Here, the message of choice is rape. That’s fair. The brutality, the victimisation, the uncertainty, the aftermath… I can see why Ireland chose it. But what put me off this play massively is the methodical way in which Ireland cheapens rape as a thing. There is a particular scene where someone is about to be raped, and this person pretty much waffles for a bit along the lines of “oh, ok, yeah, I can see why you’d want to rape me, that’s fine… no, wait, no, I don’t want to be raped… nah, go on then”. Call me a prude, but not even in dark satire is this appropriate.
Putting all that to one side for a minute, the play feels like it was written in the style of the theatre of the absurd (at first I thought perhaps avant-garde, but then reconsidered). I am no expert on either by any means, but, having seen enough Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, Foreman, Pinter, Brecht, Foreman, Stoppard and Dürrenmatt over the years (including different stagings of the same plays), I’d like to think I can tell what good looks like, and this wasn’t it for me. It felt pointless, but not in a clever way (like, say, “The Maids”, which I saw at Trafalgar Studios some years back, but the review appears to be missing). There were also bits where Ireland was laying it on waaaaaay to thick just to make sure you got it in case you haven’t figured it out by yourself (for example in the scene where one of the characters is both a doctor and someone else, so that you can be sure to know interactions with the latter are meant to take on a therapeutic role).
As for the acting… It’s a cast of 6, with the plot broadly revolving around Alan being kept up at night by noise coming from his neighbour’s house. Except when, on doctor’s advice, he decides to have a word about it, the neighbour says there is no noise, so Alan is left wondering whether the neighbour is lying or if the problem is inside his head. I mostly liked what Daragh O’Malley did with the role. He is half-way between fumbling and beaten down, which underscores the text nicely. Kevin Trainor plays several roles. I loved his take on his “main” role, but was not a fan of his “doctor”. The portrayal was a bit sleazy for lack of a better way, but that didn’t seem to add anything to the story and, in fact, made it a bit “samey” with his other role. I would’ve preferred two completely different characters with nothing in common. Laura Dos Santos, playing multiple roles as well, was also a bit samey between them. I think, as a “doctor”, I wanted her to be either detached or compassionate, but she seemed to flip-flop between the two. Kevin Murphy, Declan Rodgers, and Owen O’Neill provide a bit of comedy and move the plot forward; fine performances from all three.
I wouldn’t see this play again for love or money, and that’s not because of the subject matter. If I want to see a play about rape or one about violence in Northern Ireland or one about anything else this play covers (or just a good absurdist play for that matter), I’d rather see something else.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: -£5.
Bonus: Met a lovely couple after the show, with whom we bonded over the love of theatre (in general and absurdist plays in particular) and annoyance at the couple sat behind them (see below). One of them asked me what my favourite absurdist play was, and, almost on autopilot, I said, “Exit the King“. Then I thought about all it some more, thinking I’d probably change my mind. But no. Although there were plays where I liked the acting better, if we’re talking actual plays as in words on a page, I have to stand by my choice. (Of course if we’re not going strictly absurdist and wish to include Dürrenmatt’s “The Visit“, then I’d like to change my answer please!)
Covid Note: The theatre is mandating masks, which was wonderfully refreshing to see. That, however, did not stop 3 people in the audience (that’s in the auditorium of 50) to take off theirs just before the show started. I actually got up from my seat to tell rather audibly to a couple nearby to put their masks back on, same as the rest of us were asked, but was unceremoniously waved off. Every crowd has its ***holes. The usher did apologise to people walking about about people not wearing masks, which was nice, but I think it would’ve been prudent to actually stop the performance to name and shame. Plenty of actors have done it when people can’t be bothered to turn off their phones, so I don’t see how this is different.