Thursday, 29 March 2018

Theatre review: Vincent River

A production of Vincent River eight years ago was one of the plays that established Philip Ridley as one of my absolute favourite playwrights, so a revival at the Park Theatre's studio space was something to get excited about. First produced in 2001 but with elements that are sadly still relevant with the rise in homophobic hate crime since the Brexit vote, the titular Vincent is what the play's characters have in common, but we never see him because he died 18 weeks earlier, beaten to death in a Shoreditch cottage. His mother Anita (Louise Jameson,) who claims never to have suspected her son's sexuality, has just moved to Dagenham to get away from the scene of the crime and the backlash from her neighbours, but she's not got away from everyone who's interested in her story - a young man has been stalking her, not particularly subtly so she's well aware he's there.

When he turns up with a fresh black eye she sees an excuse to talk to him, and invites Davey (Thomas Mahy) in to the house to clean it up for him and find out why he's been following her.

Davey was the one who discovered Vincent's body, and says he's been haunted by his face ever since. He wants to know as much as possible about who the man was in life, believing that will get the image of his death out of his head, but in return Anita wants to be confronted with every detail of how her son was discovered in death. Davey's detailed description of the night, and convoluted explanation for how he and his girlfriend ended up in a notorious disused public toilet, raises alarm bells that he's not quite who he says he is.

By Ridley's standards this is a naturalistic play, but some of his trademark dark poetry still stands out, even in a production that fell a little bit flat for me. I don't know if already knowing the outcome was a factor, but it didn't help that I found Mahy a bit vocally one-note in the first half of the play, angrily barking out every line which leaves little room for mystery. Robert Chevara's production is also fighting against a design from Nicolai Hart Hansen with a "will this do?" feel - there's a lot about the story that places it very specifically at the time it was written but this isn't reflected; and Ridley could almost be going out of his way to make the show easy on a fringe budget by making it clear Anita's mother's teacups don't have to look expensive or even that nice, but they could at least look a tiny bit old and not like they've just been picked up in bulk at IKEA.

So there's a lot that took me out of the moment, but Jameson in particular battles well against it to give Anita light and shade with a real emotional depth, going some way to explaining why she has such a self-flaggelating need to know every gory detail of her son's death. And while the central event remains topical at least some things feel like they've changed - the idea that an entire East London community would openly harrass a grieving mother because her son was gay seems extreme now. This is undeniably one of Ridley's most quietly powerful plays, but this production didn't deliver the emotional gut punch I remembered and expected.

Ridley memes, mostly slightly subverted: Leg injury (a story about an amputation early on,) insects are turned into a necklace although not eaten, a birthmark though not on the face, and of course a parent losing a child.

Vincent River by Philip Ridley is booking until the 14th of April at Park Theatre 90.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: David Monteith Hodge.

No comments:

Post a Comment