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Thomas Hopkins and Theatrica Ltd. Present

 

VINCENT RIVER

Elliot Jordan in the 10th Anniversary production of Vincent River at the Landor Theatre

Photo by Tim Parker

 

Writer: Philip Ridley

 

Director: Robert McWhit

 

Landor Theatre

 

18 May – 15 June 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

A review by Jafar Iqbal for EXTRA! EXTRA!

I think that it’s important to start with a confession - an absolving of a sin, so to speak. Up until the last week or two, the name Philip Ridley was, well, a name. It rung a bell, but it was just another name added to the ever-growing list of bell-ringing playwrights in my head. So sitting in a cosy little bar, while the discussion of Ridley’s great talent came up amongst friends, my only contribution was the stirring of ice in a pint of cider.

Why reveal my ignorance, I hear you shout! Well, see, that was Monday. And by some strange miracle, Thursday saw me sitting in the Landor Theatre, waiting for a Philip Ridley play to start. Vincent River to be precise, directed by equally accomplished Robert McWhir, starring two equally accomplished actors. A recipe for success, some might say.

The information that always seemed to come out of these discussions about Ridley was his incredible knack to accurately portray London and the stories within it, and Vincent River fits that mould quite comfortably. Set in the same East End of London where Ridley himself grew up, this is a story about a part of society that hasn’t seemed to move forward. To be more specific, the play tackles the theme of homophobia in East London, and the families that have had to suffer because of it.

Davey (Elliott Jordan) turns up at Anita’s (Nicola Duffett) house one night – he has been following her for a while, but she knows that. She invites him in, tends to recently-inflicted wounds on his face, and wants to know who he is. With pained hesitation, the young teenager reveals he was the one who found the dead body of her son, Vincent. What ensues is an intense and emotional conversation between the two as the truth of Vincent’s death starts to unravel. At times both heartbreaking and funny, they piece together the life of Vincent River, right up to the point that he is found tragically murdered.

As one-act plays go, the format of the play is quite formulaic. Two characters, one setting, and the whole thing plays out in real-time. Simple. So, as with all formulaic one-act plays, the pleasure is in the execution. Where the writing filters down into the direction and into the performances, that’s where the success or failure lies. Here, each aspect of the production is incredibly strong and well-done, and credit goes to the individuals involved for that. Ridley’s script is fantastic, with beautiful rhythm in his dialogue and a humour in it that, because it shouldn’t be there, works so wonderfully well. It’s the success he has in maintaining the interest levels in both characters over the course of the play that is most commendable.

But, of course, part of that adulation should also go to McWhir, who directs the piece excellently. Well-staged, well-lit and very good use made of the stage and space available, he creates a world that the audience is able to get drawn in to. The play remains in real-time and therefore maintains a sense of reality throughout, except for a few spot-lightings for dramatic effect, which did gripe me slightly. The lack of sound and music was a good thing, I feel, as it kept the audience tuned into the actors and what was happening on stage.

McWhir’s biggest achievement in this play, though, is definitely the handling of his two actors. Both Elliott Jordan and Nicola Duffett give excellent performances, able to capture the intensity and high emotion of the play. Admittedly, though, the play seemed to start slowly on the night, and I found it difficult to really buy into the chemistry that the two seemingly had. Arguably, that was the director’s intention and, if so, I stand corrected; what does happen though is that the characters and performances build in quality over time and, by the climax, we are truly emotionally invested and buy into both their feelings and words. The best example of this is Davey’s monologue at the end of the production. He is quite superb in his delivery, moving between emotions, inflections in his voice and expressions on his face changing effortlessly. It’s a shame that the Anita character is not given that same chance, as there were flashes of Duffett’s acting brilliance which were never fully explored or pushed in the way Jordan’s were in the monologue cited.

What this play has done for me is stamped Philip Ridley’s name in my head as a playwright to follow and appreciate. Some people have said that Vincent River is not his strongest writing, and that may be true, but this is still an excellent piece of theatre. Never mind the sociological and cultural relevance of the subject matter (which in itself is a good reason to watch this play), the performances of the two leads is reason enough to book yourself a ticket and make your way to the Landor.

 

 

Tickets: £15 (£12 concessions)

Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm

Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm

Landor Theatre, 70 Landor Road, London SW9 9PH

http://www.landortheatre.co.uk

Box Office: 020 7737 7276

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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