(4 / 5)
Philip Ridley’s tense two-hander receives its first performance in Cardiff with the action relocated to the Welsh capital.
In-Yer-Face theatre associated playwright Philip Ridley is renowned for his uncompromising scripts and action, and nearly twenty years on from its Hampstead Theatre premiere, “Vincent River” still packs a punch.
In a famous review of 1994 of Ridley’s “Ghost from a Perfect Place” Michael Billingham, probably Britain’s most renowned theatre critic launched a rant on the gratuitous violence on display. In turn Billingham was criticised for not getting the point.
In “Vincent River” the explicit violence is only spoken about in a flashback”, and it is identified with lengthy soliloquys from Davey, (Aly Cruickshank) towards the end, more reminicent of another highly regarded Ridley play, “The Pitchfork Disney”.
As a gay man, Ridley often writes from his own personal experience, and this is shown in “Vincent River”, not only in terms of homosexual alienation, but in the character of Anita, (Victoria Pugh) who has been forced to relocate due to the unwelcome publicity in the aftermath of her son Vincent’s murder.
Davey has been stalking Anita for a while, anxious to offload something that is weighing heavily on his mind. After plucking up the courage to confront Anita in her new flat, and after an uncertain nervy start, the two of them engage in a feisty dialogue over the remaining 80 minutes. Ridley develops the character by both of them relating stories about their past – Anita with Vincent and Davey with his trophy girlfriend Rachael and his dying mother.
The climax is memorable with Anita bawling a Primal Howl, (I wanted to write Primal Scream to honour a favourite band, but it is a howl not a scream), that will echo in the memory of the audience long after the end of the play.
The blinding light as Davey leaves Anita’s flat may indicate a kind of release from the revelations that the charged conversation had revealed, but there is no catharsis in this play. You can’t really expect this in a play where a gay young man dies from a frenzied, pointless homophobic attack.
The question is why is Davey feeling a craving to speak to Anita? He found the body and reported it in to the police, but isn’t he too personally involved. That’s what Anita is wondering.
Ridley’s naturalistic dialogue urges fine performances from the two actors, and he receives it here. Aly Cruickshank who impressed me recently in Spilt Milk’s, “Five Green Bottles” provides another edgy performance, at times deserving the audience’s hostility and at others our sympathy.
Experienced actress, in all formats of performance, Victoria Pugh offers at different times an angry, grieving, sexy inquisitor a performance of subtly and emotional depth. Although, at times, when she showed anger and spoke more quickly, I did have a little difficulty understanding her. Mind this might be down to me, for in Aberdare, I do have some problems understanding my neighbours when they get agitated… which sadly is quite a regular occurrence!
Luke Hereford’s assured direction complements the two actors, although I think he has a little work to do in the middle of the play, that dragged a little, but that could be down to first night blues. Also a strategic repositioning of empty bottles may be considered.
Composer Josh Bowles’s input worked well within a space that exudes a great atmosphere for such an intense play as “Vincent River”.
One problem that I have with this play, from a didactic standpoint, is that audience members, whether gay or straight will already be sympathetic to the cause. I can’t envisage many homophobes parting with a tenner to watch this.
I shall finish with one sobering thought. It has been reported in The Independent newspaper last year, that in the aftermath of the Brexit vote, homophobic attacks increased by 147%. The re-emergence of nationalism and far-right governments have a tarnished history with regard to minority groups and one only has to think about Nazi Germany who persecuted homosexuals as well as Jews, Gypsies and political opponents with a relish that new no bounds.
“Vincent River” is a thrilling intense drama that gets the treatment from No Boundaries Theatre that it deserves.
An interview that I conducted recently with director Luke Hereford about this production can be found here.
The play uses pervasive language and covers mature themes and is deemed suitable for those aged over 14.
Its run ends on 21st September. I understand that tickets are only available for the performance this evening, (20th September).