Bussey Building, Peckham, London
The Royal Court’s residency in Peckham just gets better and better. Last month it was local girl making good with Bola Agbaje’s Belong. Hayley Squires’ Vera Vera Vera, just transferred from the Court’s home base in Sloane Square goes one step further. As a debut play, it’s an absolute cracker, a taut one hour long exploration of social violence: violence of language, violence of relationships and underpinning it all, the demythologising of our instant dubbing of any soldier who dies in battle as a `war hero’.
This is brave – or foolhardy – territory for a first-timer to be grappling with. Roy Williams took a similarly piercingly honest look at the home environment of `our brave men’ fighting for Queen and country in Iraq in Days of Significance (RSC, 2007).
Interestingly, where Williams was asked to write in response to Much Ado About Nothing, Squires appears to have taken Romeo & Juliet as a lightening rod.
Her multi-layered drama contrasts two sets of relationships – barely articulate school friends Sammy and Charlie tentatively groping towards some kind of understanding and gentler form of communication; and Charlie’s cousin Emily with her bruiser of a brother Danny and family friend and sometime lover, Lee.
The catalyst for the various confrontations is the recent death in Afghanistan of Em’s brother and Charlie’s cousin, Bobby in Afghanistan. Squires captures reactions to this event with extraordinary precision and honesty against a background of sexual tensions and destroyed urban living.
`We aren’t good people, Lee. We’re shit. I am and so are you and so is everyone we know’, says Em in a moment of painful truthfulness.
This is our society’s uglier underbelly reflected with a compassion and brutality reminiscent of the impact made by the first plays of Shelagh Delaney and Andrea Dunbar. Characters struggling to express emotions they hardly dare recognise in circumstances of emotional and economic deprivation.
Jo McInnes and her pitch perfect young cast, warily listening in on each other’s conversations in Tom Piper’s atmospheric sparse interior and green grass surround make this an exceptional, strangely uplifting experience through its combination of poetic insight and grim realism. Simply stunning.
Emily: Danielle Flett
Lee: Daniel Kendrick
Danny: Tommy McDonnell
Charlie: Abby Rakic-Platt
Sammy: Ted Riley
Director: Jo McInnes Designer: Tim Piper
Lighting Designer: Stephen Andrews
Sound Designer: David McSeveney
Casting Director: Amy Ball
Assistant Director: Ben Sayle
Vera Vera Vera was first performed at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square on March 22, 2012 as part of its Young Writers Festival.
This review first published in Reviewsgate in July 2012