Opening night review: Vincent River

4 stars

Vincent River
BT Studio

For those of you who know Philip Ridley’s work as a children’s author, Vincent River will come as something of a surprise. The show’s striking poster , a simple line-drawn man’s face bleeding from the eyes, gives some warning that this is not his usual semi-magical teenage escapism.

The leap into adult drama is made cleanly, and completely; the play’s concerns are murder and social stigmatisation. The characters who transgress the rules of normative society do not find  self-fulfilment and a role in the community;  they find ostracism.

The influence of the author’s other work is not lost completely; the troubled teenager, whose entry opens the show, full of conflicting thoughts that need expunging, is a recurring feature, like the angry hornets in the head of the young boy in The Mighty Fizz-Chiller; the eponymous Vincent’s fixation on art echoes the creative urge which frequently causes the heroine of Vinegar Street to faint; the council flats and dingy London backstreets which form the settings of the narrative remind one of the surreal urban desolation of Scribbleboy.

Unusually, however, there are only two characters in this story, and only one room; the moving-box cluttered main room of a house or flat where a mother (Rafaella Marcus), and the young man (Matt Monaghan) who has been following her for weeks try, by discussion, argument, and vivid re-enactment, try to make sense of what has happened to her son.

The props  are appropriately chosen, and the cardboard boxes covering the furniture artfully arranged. The soft, warm lighting, noticeable at first, matching tastefully the cardboard and the weak bulb of the uplighter, quickly fades into the background,  dimming occasionally with the flow of the story. Neither the costume nor the furniture struck an off-chord, and all in all the staging left the mind effectively clear for the performance of the two actors.

Both finalists, Marcus and Monaghan have had to squeeze their rehearsal time into a remarkably short space, and yet this is not apparent in their performances. The dynamic that they have developed between the characters, and between themselves as actors, injects the whole experience with energy; what could easily disintegrate in the act of remembering into two separate monologues remains a duologue throughout; even while one was listening their attentive reactions are as interesting to watch as the speaker. The timing, too, made the most of Ridley’s lines, but particularly of the pauses, which were held in a sensitive and rhythmic way.

There were, naturally, small elements which might, and probably will be improved upon; Monaghan, like many of us, seems to have a little difficulty inhaling smoke onstage, and his accent seemed at times perhaps to slip a little. On the other hand, Marcus could have done with a touch more energy on some of the lines, to lend a more varied tone to the piece.

These are quibbles, however; while one can forgive small fluffs, it was great to watch a show where one didn’t have to:  the cues were very sharp indeed, and the attention to detail, like the shaking hand pouring gin, meant that I felt entirely justified in watching every little movement they made.

A highly engaging evening, then, and thoroughly recommended.

–Vyvyan Almond