Tag Archives: Homophobia

Review of “Vincent River” at Jacob’s Market, Cardiff by Roger Barrington

 

(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.

http://getthechance.wales/2018/09/11/preview-with-interview-of-vincent-river-at-jacobs-market-cardiff-19-21-september-2018/

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).

 

Roger Barrington

Preview with Interview of “Vincent River” at Jacobs Market, Cardiff 19-21 September 2018

 

Philip Ridley’s acclaimed one-act 2000 play, “Vincent River” tells the story of a mother whose son Vincent has been murdered in a homophobic attack. In the aftermath, she learns about her son’s homosexuality.

“Vincent River” stars Victoria Pugh (Hidden – BBC One, Rownd a Rownd – S4C) and Aly Cruickshank (Five Green Bottles for Spilt Milk Theatre and Cardiff Fringe Theatre Festival).

It i directed by Luke Hereford  (Sherman Theatre Director’s Programme).

I posed the following questions to Luke ahead of the performances next week in Cardiff.

Q1. What drew you to Directing “Vincent River”?

Philip Ridley is a writer who is instrumental to the shape of contemporary theatre, and played a huge part in making theatre available and accessible for a number of new audiences by addressing some often controversial issues that a staggeringly large number of audiences can directly relate to. Vincent River is one of those plays. Like lots of Phil’s plays, it puts taboo opinions and subject front and centre, and demands the audience to sit up and listen, through the means of darkly beautiful poetry. That is everything I look for in theatre.

Q2. The play is set by writer Philip Ridley in Dagenham, an area of longstanding homophobic prejudice. Do you retain the location or do you change it to Cardiff?

We have been lucky enough to have Philip Ridley’s direct support of our production. He actually suggested changing the location to Cardiff. He said he thinks it’s important to remind audiences that the events of this play aren’t exclusive to London, so we’ve decided to relocate it. We also think that there’s something especially chilling, for Welsh audiences, about hearing street names and locations that they recognise.

Q3. Coming out of Q2, due you think there is a homophobic problem in Cardiff above the average, and is enough being done to combat this?

I don’t know if it’s Cardiff-specific, but in the last few years, I have found in my personal life the occasional comment or word in public situations aimed at me – particularly if I am with my partner – that I haven’t encountered, probably since I was in High School. It’s not that I feel unsafe, but I think there is less encouragement – due to certain world leaders – to be accepting of everyone. In terms of combating it, I’d like to think that by making people aware of such casual marginalisation, and where it has the potential to lead, the play might help to at least continue conversations about modern day homophobia and prejudice.

Q4. What difficulties did you encounter when producing this play?

We are uncovering a lot of themes that we hadn’t anticipated might be present, which is a gift more than anything; there is a delicate balance in terms of being aware of when to draw out the right themes, but we have been very gifted with our actors. Victoria Pugh and Aly Cruickshank are just a joy. They are intelligent and instinctive, and are vivid storytellers, which is exactly what this play requires. I feel so privileged to be working with them.

Q5. Philip Ridley is a pioneer of “In-yer-face” theatre, which emerged in British theatre in the 1990’s. “Vincent River” being first performed in 2000 to critical success. Do you think that this “brand” of theatre is as vital twenty years on, and how do you think our next Brit-style theatre will develop out of it? Or will it go in a different direction?

I think it’s clear that the shock factor of In-Yer-Face theatre has certainly subdued, but actually, it makes these sorts of plays pertinent in a very different way. I saw Shopping and F***ing at Lyric Hammersmith, just two years ago; it’s a play with themes of prostitution, sexual abuse, drug use, consumerism – to name a few – and seeing it in the age of Amazon and Netflix, when everything is instantaneous and transactional, the play had a very different feel to what I imagine people who saw it at the Royal Court in the late 1990s would have felt*. Something like Vincent River continues to remain pertinent, because fundamentally it’s about hate. Sadly, for that reason, I imagine there will always be a level of relevance within the play, and right now it feels particularly urgent.

*I saw this production, as I did Sarah Kane’s “Blasted” in its first week and they certainly left a massive impression on me.

Q6. Jacob’s Market in Cardiff, the venue of your production, is an unusual choice. Is there any reason for this?

Well, we wanted somewhere that was almost site-specific. I originally viewed to perform it in a living room, or someone’s basement, and then I found the Basement in Jacob’s sort of by accident. It instantly felt like the kind of space that Philip Ridley would write, and it all slotted together perfectly. You really have to see the space to know what I mean!

Clearly, “Vincent River” is as important a play now as it was nearly 20 year ago, and the promise of an interesting pace to view it,  makes it even more appealing.

Jacobs Antique Market is located in West Canal Wharf, a few minutes stroll from Cardiff Central Railway Station.

Tickets available online.

END

Roger Barrington