The Yard, London – until 30 November 2019
Jeanine is in her early 30s and seems to have herself together, but her friends know better. Though she can hold down a job, a relationship and hobbies, she can’t manage to get a handle on cleanliness and hygiene. Not that this really comes across in this production, though. Jay Miller’s low-key, casual realism and a clean design contradict the filth that Jeanine is supposed to embody.
Clare Barron’s story that centres bodies and how we selectively abuse them comes across as if it is trying to shock, but its words aren’t backed up by the staging and design concept. We hear about Jeanine’s inability to do laundry, but she always looks pulled together. What is more concerning are scenes explicitly depicting S&M, rape and suicide juxtaposed by casual delivery of the dialogue.
Though this can read as Jeanine’s disregard for her own welfare, Miller’s handling of these scenes is a glaring reflection of the disconnect between the direction and the script that permeates this production. Considering the play’s themes and content, this is ill-considered at best or irresponsible at worst.
Despite this, the three actors carry their characters well. Akiya Henry as Jeanine is determined to improve her life, but doesn’t always manage to be handle the logistics of it. Douggie McMeekin is Victor, Jeanine’s sort-of boyfriend/guy she regularly fucks, a stereotypical, mediocre ‘nice guy’ who in no way deserves her. Abiona Omnua supports as Synda, the local dance school teacher where Jeanine takes a ballet class. The friendship between her and Jeanine is a heartening display of the platonic closeness that’s possible between two women.
Miller’s production neatly compartmentalises the different people and places in Jeanine’s life, but it’s much too tidy for this text. The curtains that open and close to reveal Victor’s flat, the dance studio and Jeanine’s bedroom allow any and all mess to be covered up and ignored, and only dealt with as and when the characters choose. Though the play is about life’s mess and attempts to keep those forces at bay, the production’s handling of particularly frank and disturbing scenes capturing this mess raise concerns.