Losing a son or daughter must be devastating for any parent, but when that loss is the result of murder and nobody has been brought to justice then the pain and need for answers must be almost unbearable. This is the starting point for Philip Ridley’s one-act play Vincent River currently in residence at the Park Theatre.
Anita (Louise Jameson) has recently moved into a flat in Dagenham. The flat is a bit of a tip, and she hasn’t really done much about unpacking, but she is glad to be away from her old estate. Anita has moved because of the sniping and gossip following the murder of her son, Vincent, in a surprising and unlikely location. She is pleased to be away from everyone and is looking forward to starting a new life with no more prying eyes and wagging tongues. However, today she is not alone. Her flat contains herself and a young man by the name of Davey (Thomas Mahy). Davey has obviously been in a fight – a testament to that is his black eye – and it might be thought that Anita had just taken pity on the boy, offering him a refuge from whoever had attacked him. But all is not necessarily as it seems. Though they have never met before, Anita and Davey do know each other. Their face-to-face meeting today, coupled with Anita’s invitation to come inside, will be the catalyst that changes the lives of both of them forever.
I really love it when a play starts gently and builds to a roaring crescendo that leaves me totally speechless when the lights come back up, and Vincent River really does that. Initially, Philip Ridley’s writing is very gentle and relaxed. We get to meet Anita and Davey and learn something of their characters. They are both working class products of the East End who, while not being the most articulate, know their own minds and are quite forthright in their opinions. The two of them build an immediate connection, that is more to do with their relative ages – it’s so easy to slip into a parent/child relationship – than anything else. But, as it develops and we get to know the details of where their lives intertwine, that connection becomes stronger until there is no turning back for either of them no matter how painful things become.
During the course of the 80+ minutes, the writing addresses many subjects. Parental protection of their children, hidden lives, tolerance, homophobia, grief, fear, hypocrisy, domestic abuse and even how we deal with elephants in the room. All are covered in the frank and open conversations between Anita and Davey. Jameson and Mahy play their respective roles with a wonderful naturalistic style, dignity and grace that makes both Anita and Davey real people that have been through a life-changing experience. Jamesons’ Anita is a vulnerable woman determined to never go down without a fight who makes it clear that the loss of her son, though devastating, will not break her. The verbal interaction between the two characters is really beautiful and there are genuine moments of pure joy as the actors deliver Philip Ridley’s almost lyrical script.
Jameson and Mahy, verbally bounce off each other beautifully and there are genuine moments of pure joy as they deliver Philip Ridley’s almost lyrical script. This is particularly true near the end of the show, as Mahy’s Davey stands centre stage and, in a voice that almost hypnotises, tells his story, every eye in the theatre firmly glued to him. This wasn’t acting, this was a mesmerising display of the power of beautiful words in the hands of a master craftsman.
Designer Nicolai Hansen’s set is very austere, pretty much a sofa, some boxes and a sink but it works perfectly to illustrate the new place inhabited by Anita. It also gives Director Robert Chevara plenty of room to move his actors around and there are wonderful moments where the two of them seem to be circling each other as they verbally spar. All told, the staging worked extremely well despite the restrictions of sight-lines sometimes encountered by a thrust stage.
It is very easy to believe when living in London that we have reached a sort of utopia for acceptance of diversity here in the capital city. The reality is there will always be people out there who hate another person because they are different in some way and under the right circumstances, will do something about that. Vincent River may have been written back in 2000 but its lessons are still as relevant today as they were then. Without diluting that message, I consider myself lucky to have seen this production which combines the words with fantastic staging and superlative acting to produce a definitive version of Philip Ridley’s awesome play.
Review by Terry Eastham
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 the Hampstead Theatre in 2001, and a West End smash in 2007. Thrilling, heartbreaking and darkly humorous by turns, it is now seen as one of the most powerful explorations of hate crime – and society’s need to crush ‘difference’ – ever written.
CAST: Louise Jameson and Thomas Mahy
Philip Ridley – Writer
Robert Chevara -Director
Nicolai Hart Hansen – Designer
Marty Langthorne – Lighting Designer
Celia Dugua – Producer
Kevin Wilson – Pr
Jack Cullen – Online Press / Social
Esme Pitts – Production Assistant
Production Photography & Portraits – David Monteith-Hodge
Rehearsal Photography – Alex Brenner
Videography – Mannbros Media
Celia Dugua in association with Park Theatre presents
By Philip Ridley
Directed by Robert Chevara
Plays: 20 Mar – 14 Apr 2018
Running Time: 81 mins approx.