Studio 2, Trafalgar Studios, London ****
Runs: 1hr 20mins without an interval
Review of perf seen May 21, 2019:
Philip Ridley is nothing less than a creative phenomenon. I’ve only come across him through his stage plays for adults but a quick glance at his Wiki entry shows those to be merely the tip of a gigantic iceberg of creativity that stretches across theatre – for children as well as adults – literature (especially for children) – Art, photography and film – and music as a lyricist with notably Nick Bicât.
Vincent River (2000) was one of his earlier plays. Seeing some of his early work – The Pitchfork Disney (1991), The Fastest Clock in the Universe (1992), Mercury Fur (2005), I remember gaining the impression of a particularly violent strain running through the plays and then coming to the realisation that, born an East End kid, what Ridley was really about was investigating the root causes of violence; where did it come from and why. Highly moral intent.
Vincent River premiered originally at Hampstead Theatre before being revived in 2007 and staged in this same theatre, Trafalgar Studios for the Old Vic productions.
Robert Chevara’s tense, beautifully calibrated revival has now brought it `home’ after it first appeared last year at the Park Theatre.
A taut, psychological two-hander, it shows all the hallmarks of Ridley’s early background. The text is layered with geographic actuality. The naming of Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Dalston streets and landmarks giving it an almost visceral, physical intimacy: you feel as if you, too, are walking those streets, or in Ridley’s case, more likely running.
Ridley’s world is one inhabited by troubled souls, often teenagers. In Vincent River, one of them, Davey comes up against an older woman, as played by Louise Jameson, `working class’, a `rag trade’ seamstress and stylish with it.
Vincent River is an account of East End life. It could, at times, almost read as a diary – Jameson’s Anita has a veritable stockpile of anecdotes of her past life; Mahy’s Davey too gradually gets into the swing of `raconteur’.
Indeed it is he who provides the nerve-tingling climax and the incident that has brought these two unlikely individuals together, she the mother of the play’s eponymous `hero’, Vincent, Davey the young man who found in him a love-mate.
In fact, though Vincent River details an East End world seldom portrayed, it is, in typical dark Ridley fashion, a love story. Davey has a description of the effect Vincent has on him that would stand comparison with any, of the electricity of `attraction’ and the powerful impact one personality can have on another.
It is, of course, too, a tale of a terrible, homophobic murder, told with all the psychological suspense and intensity of a thriller that Chevara’s pitch perfect production draws out tantalisingly as we watch the heightened tension built by Ridley’s dramatic structure and by the emotional interplay created by the immaculate Jameson and Mahy’s Davey.
Jameson makes Anita a powerful portrait of survival – a woman and single mother, street-wise, who has made her way in the world, head nearly always held high, quick-witted but equally capable of desperate howls of despair and agony.
A terrific, assured performance, she’s matched by Mahy’s Davey, a picture of awkward gaucherie and uncertainty, a young man still trying to find his identity.
Initially hardly a match – Jameson’s Anita is really always the one in command – by the end, they dynamic has swung; her own vulnerability has been exposed, and Davey has acquired a modicum of absolution.
Ridley and Chevara’s production emerges as a masterful depiction of oppositional but mutual need unexpectedly producing a healing catharsis.
Recommended. Do see.
By Philip Ridley
Anita: Louise Jameson
Davey: Thomas Mahy
Director: Robert Chevara
Set and Costume Designer: Nicolai Hart Hansen
Lighting Designer: Marty Langthorne
Producer/General Manager: Danielle Tarento
Associate Producer: Steven M Levy
World premiere of Vincent River was at the Hampstead Theatre, London, Sept 8, 2000.
First perf of this production at Park Theatre, London, March 23, 2018.
First perf of this transferred production at Trafalgar Studios, London, May 16, 2019.
Presented by arrangement with Knight Hall Agency Ltd.
Runs to June 22, 2019
Review published on this site, May 23, 2019