Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Theatre review: Vera Vera Vera

The Veras in the title of Hayley Squires' debut play have nothing to do with The Shamen, but instead refer to the (basically quite similar) musical stylings of Dame Vera Lynn. Her songs play over the scene changes of Vera Vera Vera, the second and final full production in this year's Royal Court Young Writers Festival. The cast of five are split over two connected storylines: On the day of the funeral of Bobby, a soldier killed in Afghanistan, his sister Emily (Danielle Flett,) brother Danny (Tommy McDonnell) and best friend Lee (Daniel Kendrick) gather, bicker, and try to move on. Interspersed with their scenes is a story that happens a couple of weeks later: Charlie (Abby Rakic-Platt) and Sammy (Ted Riley) are a couple of teenage best friends. As Sammy prepares to meet a school bully for a fight, the two are forced to acknowledge their real feelings for each other.

The basic framework of Tom Piper's set from Goodbye To All That is reused here, redesigned into a bare wooden stage surrounded by tatty, littered parkland (there's a warning about cigarettes being smoked; there should be one about the hayfever-unfriendly real turf) from which the actors not in a particular scene look on. Emily and Lee's attempts to grieve aren't helped by Danny, an aggressive drug dealer who appears to be all talk (his plan to put a racist sign outside the funeral comes to nothing) but he still gets in the way of any chances for the other two to comfort each other. This older trio's grief is coloured by how Bobby's death affects them personally. The second story, then, offers a contrast: Charlie, it turns out, was Bobby's cousin. Though her life is full of the many distractions for a teenager, and her budding love life is consuming a lot of her attention, her own grief for her cousin's death has an uncomplicated sincerity those closer to him don't display.

The short play is good, although it very much shows the writer's inexperience. The storyline with the older characters (as director Jo McInnes pointed out in a Q&A afterwards, none of the cast are over 23, but these three characters seem to have had long, hard lives) concludes satisfactorily in terms of their own character arcs, but says little beyond that. Part of Squires' point is an admission that many people don't care to find out what is actually happening in the Middle East or why, until it affects them personally. But this isn't taken any further. The performances from all five actors though are powerful and the main reason to see the show. As the adorable younger couple, Rakic-Platt and Riley are extraordinary, utterly drawing you in, and I could have watched them squirm all night. Partly a sign, though, that this more straightforward story is more in the writer's comfort zone than the more hard-hitting element that makes this "a Royal Court play."

I've seen a few cast-and-creatives feedback talks by now but I don't remember ever seeing one where the actors got quite so visibly emotional when discussing their rehearsal experiences. Perhaps this highly personal approach is how McInnes got such intense performances from her actors. Or maybe the grass was setting their allergies off, too.

Vera Vera Vera by Hayley Squires is booking until the 14th of April at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Upstairs (returns only.)

Running time: 1 hour straight through.
Got any salmon? Sorted.

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