Having not read the now famous book by DBC Pierre and not seen the show before, in fact, having managed to stumble through life almost completely unaware of Vernon God Little entirely I had absolutely no idea what this production was going to paint onto the blank canvas I had in my head. What resulted was nothing like any expectations that I had. The production is a credit to everyone involved and is a triumph for the Young Vic theatre.
The set itself appeared simple and was kept sparse. The various trapdoors were hidden until they were suddenly revealed and the segregated wings worked very well to aid the rapid movement onstage. The rapid movement was due to the pace of the show and the nature of the set. Everything was on wheels and was wheeled across the stage into and out of position so that there was seldom a time when everything on stage was stationary. Everything was used in multiple ways to wonderful effect. The bar in Mexico turned into a car and each sofa had a stint as a car of some kind, the walls of each place being swiveled to reveal either another room or another place entirely. The lighting was well orchestrated as well, keeping hidden things that would have shown up to the detriment of the show and amplifying the things that were making it wonderful. Congratulations to Designer and Lighting Technicians Ian MacNeil, Paule Constable and Jane Dutton.
As fantastic as the props and set were the music was at least ten times more stupefying. Every member of the cast had a burgeoning musical talent that was exposed and celebrated with the fervor of a group of people thoroughly enjoying what they’re doing. Instruments on show included acoustic guitars, electric guitars, a double bass, a harmonica and a banjo! And for the record I’m not counting the versatile vocals in there but they definitely deserve a mention. Each member of the cast had a beautiful voice and each had no reservations about sharing it, the result being a musical cavalcade of delight that rarely stopped, even for the action. A credit to Casting Director Maggie Lunn to find people so talented in every aspect, including dance as well, as she has done.
The whole show looked and felt like a storybook world in a teenager’s imagination; an effect that worked very well indeed in treading the line between harsh and comic, hilariously funny and mortifyingly sad. It was a line that every member of the cast walked in every character that they had to bring to the stage, which in itself is a truly remarkable achievement. Each member of the cast not only had a unique musical challenge to compete with, but also had a vastly greater than average number of different characters to perform and each character was brought to life with both unique and life-like characteristics and realistic depth and were each and every one a true credit to the actors.
I find it difficult to believe the programme when it says that this was Joseph Drake’s professional debut. He was far too good for that to be the case. The last person to play the title role was Colin Morgan (now of Merlin fame) and his act must have been an interesting one to follow. Drake does so with a truly magical performance, fleeting between the sad and the funny, the desperate and the whimsy without a hint of panic or inexperience. A career to follow here.
On the other end of the spectrum we have Peter de Jersey, who has traded his more accustomed RSC stalwart position for something completely different. Cutting all the strings loose he commands the stage as the charismatic Lally, marching on and grabbing attention instantly, drawing us to his performance. Having seen him in numerous RSC productions over the years it was truly astounding to see him giving a performance as fantastic as this in a completely different character.
I don’t have enough space to give the credit to each cast member that is due to them but I hope it will suffice if I say that each gave a performance that is worthy of remembrance and praise and nobody let the side down at all. There was a great sense of joy that was visible in the cast that only stems from being both at ease and ridiculously talented.
The beauty of the show lies in the unity of it. It manages to hold together the delicate balance of the script to manipulate the audience in remarkable ways. One moment you could be laughing out loud and within a couple of moments you could be fighting back the tears before smiling at a song and dance moments after that. At the end it becomes frustratingly good and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to laugh or cry and ended up sitting in a form of stunned silence. It’s a credit to the direction of Rufus Norris, a welcome exhibition of talent after the notably flat Country Girl of late. This balance is the holy grail of theatre and is something that this show manages to find and hold aloft, triumphant. Everything is held together beautifully.
This production is an absolute wonder and cannot be missed. There’s so much I want to say in praise of it that you really must go to understand why. The season has already been extended so don’t risk missing what is a marvellous show. Go. Now.
Written by DBC Pierre; Adapted by Tanya Ronder; Directed by Rufus Norris; at the Young Vic; Starring Joseph Drake, Peter de Jersey, Luke Brady, Clare Burt, Daniel Cerqueira, Johnnie Fiori, Lily James, Penny Layden, Nathan Osgood, Duncan Wisbey; Runs from 27 Jan 11 - 12 Mar 11.
John Ord (16/02/2011)