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Vincent River by Philip Ridley at Trafalgar Studios | Review

Vincent River 1 Louise Jameson and Thomas Mahy Photo Scott Rylander.
Vincent River 1 Louise Jameson and Thomas Mahy Photo Scott Rylander.

Looking at Philip Ridley’s script for Vincent River, the first page and a half is dispensed with altogether in this production, plunging the audience directly into the dialogue, at quite a fast pace, which only gets faster before a long monologue by Davey (Thomas Mahy). In this monologue, the events of the show’s off-stage critical incident (which happened some weeks before the evening in which the play is set) are recounted in a manner that I can only describe as a verbal version of projectile vomit. This is not Davey’s fault, because the events he describes to Anita (Louise Jameson) are very harrowing, his narrative is not for the fainthearted, and it has taken considerable courage to tell the story at all in the first place.

Perhaps it is an indictment on the attention spans of contemporary audiences that the pauses, presumably for dramatic effect, that were put in by the playwright are largely (seemingly) dispensed with. It just seems too hurried for a conversation between two people who do not appear to have any further appointments that day. But it is a greater indictment that nobody came to the rescue of the Vincent of the play’s title, Anita’s son, when he was targeted by thugs, even if, as the storyline makes clear, it may not have been reasonable to expect anyone else to have been there at the time, let alone raised the alarm.

I suppose it is better for a play to finish all too soon than to drag on and overstay its welcome. Both Jameson and Mahy are razor sharp in executing a dense and naturalistic script – the tensions that rise are as palpable as the sense of release that comes as the pair reveal more and more about themselves and their pasts. Mahy’s Davey speaks in what sociologists call Multicultural London English (or MLE), as much as the script will allow. So, while the accent is excellent and consistent throughout, the vocabulary doesn’t quite fit – his Standard English-eseque ‘No’ comes across as ‘Noooo’ rather than the ‘Nah’ or ‘Nuh’ I am used to hearing.

I’m being rather picky, really, because the play is very engaging, if intense, and what is said (and sometimes what isn’t said) far outweighs how it is said. As the entire play takes place without so much as a scene change in Anita’s new front room – so ‘new’ that she is still unpacking – the production becomes, by necessity, heavily reliant on description and good old-fashioned storytelling.

It might have been somewhat different had the play been written and set in the digital era, as there is at least the possibility of someone having videoed the events that continue to play on Davey’s mind, such that there wouldn’t be such a strong reliance on his powers of recall.

The play is not afraid of stereotypes – the young man who consumes various substances that may or may not be legal, not that he cares either way, and the older woman who can’t remember that a school’s Christmas production is a called a Nativity play but can wax lyrical about how things used to be in her day. But as reports of hate crimes continue to appear in news headlines, in supposedly more enlightened times, a revival of this play, now almost twenty years old, could not have been timelier. When Jameson’s Anita lets out what the script calls a “long, painful cry” that rang out across Trafalgar Studio Two, I momentarily envisioned people sat watching another production in Trafalgar Studio One thinking, “What was that?”

The character development is considerable, especially given the setting and the relatively brief running time. One naturally wishes for a world in which violence against people on the basis of what their sexual orientation is perceived to be stops happening, but for now, this nuanced and highly moving production is taut, turbulent and ultimately triumphant.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Davey has seen something he can never forget. Anita has been forced to flee her home. Tonight, they meet for the first time… and their lives will change forever.

Philip Ridley’s modern classic was a huge success when it premiered at Hampstead Theatre in 2000, and a West End smash at Trafalgar Studios in 2007. This production was seen at London’s Park Theatre in 2018. Thrilling, heartbreaking and darkly humorous by turns, it’s now seen as one of the most powerful explorations of hate crime – and society’s need to crush ‘difference’ – ever written. Louise Jameson and Thomas Mahy in Vincent River by Philip Ridley, directed by Robert Chevara

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Facebook: @tarentoproductions
Twitter: @VincentRiver2

Danielle Tarento in association with Steven M. Levy, by arrangement with Celia Dugua and Park Theatre, presents
Vincent River
Trafalgar Studios 2
14 Whitehall
London, SW1A 2DY
The production runs to Saturday 22 June.

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