Vincent River – Park Theatre, London

Writer: Philip Ridley

Director: Robert Chevara

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Vincent River, Philip Ridley’s account of the devastating repercussions from a homophobic hate killing, was first performed at Hampstead Theatre in 2001. In the intervening years, society has changed (albeit not yet enough) and some of the specific details in the 80-minute one-act play feel dated, but, more generally, the persistence of sickening, senseless inner-city violence means that this revival still resonates strongly in 2018.

Anita is being forced to move out of her home because of neighbours’ taunts about the sexuality of her son Vincent, murdered by a gang of thugs 18 weeks earlier. Her new flat, as seen in Nicolai Hart Hansen’s set design, still has bare walls, a sofa covered by a sheet and several cardboard boxes, from which only a bottle of gin has been unpacked. Louise Jameson makes her a proud and defiant figure whose tears of grief must be suppressed. This is a woman for whom attack is always the first line of self-defence, a product of the old working-class East End of London, from a breed that is now becoming a rarity in Shoreditch, the area in which she and her son had lived. 

Over the weeks since the murder, Anita has felt the presence of a young stalker and now she invites him into her new flat to confront him. He is 17-year-old Davey, who enters wearing a hoody claiming that he was present when the body was discovered. He explains that the only way in which he can erase images of Vincent from his head is to make him a real person again by learning everything about him from his mother. By making Davey’s pretext so implausible, Ridley signals too early where the play is really going, but his skilful writing makes the journey to get there consistently gripping.

At first, Thomas Mahy looks uncomfortable as the Cockney Jack-the-lad Davey, but, as more is revealed, he grows into the character and climaxes with a performance of commanding visceral intensity. Fuelled by a cocktail of gin, strong painkillers and marijuana, the inhibitions of both Anita and Davey melt away and they bare their souls in a combative, cathartic process that is often painful to watch.

When everything comes together in Robert Chevara’s taut production, it is scorching. If there are occasions when the high drama feels slightly over-cooked, they are countered by unexpected moments of high comedy and the balance works to good effect. It all leaves us wishing for a kinder, gentler world and regretting that, 17 years after the play was written, we still seem no closer to finding it.

Runs until 14 April 2018 | Image: David Monteith Hodge

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