“Mahy’s performance perfectly condenses an unstable and volatile mix of anger, vulnerability, belligerence and dependence”
Philip Ridley is a playwright whose finger is always on the pulse, and even though “Vincent River” was written at the birth of this century it has lost none of its punch. Unfortunately, this has as much to do with how slowly society changes as it does with the timeless quality of the writing. During the last five years, homophobic hate crime has reportedly been rising. What is seldom reported is the aftermath: the personal story that this play heart-breakingly throws into the spotlight.
Anita is in her new flat, having been forced to flee her previous home. A youth has wandered in through the door into her living room. He is Davey, wearing a black hoodie, a black eye and an even darker obsession with Anita whom he has been stalking for months; ever since Anita’s son, Vincent, was murdered by thugs in a disused railway station’s toilet. Over the next eighty minutes, these two characters fight to understand themselves and each other. Played out in real time the audience are drawn in so much that we feel like the third character in this drama.
The rhythm and melody of Ridley’s dialogue is a gift for the two actors, and under the assured direction of Robert Chevara, the pulse never wavers. Thomas Mahy plays Davey like a dangerous dog whose threat of menace and aggression can be swiftly curbed with a flash of Anita’s bared teeth. Mahy’s performance perfectly condenses an unstable and volatile mix of anger, vulnerability, belligerence and dependence. Yet the undoubted force that drives this piece is the charismatic Louise Jameson, with her matchlessly poignant portrayal of a mother suffering her worst nightmare. A naked study of grief for the loss of a son that is believable throughout. Her raw pain is the skeleton upon which she drapes cloaks of humour, scorn and even tenderness. We are riveted right up to the climax when she finally rips through her armour with a blood curdling howl.
Jameson and Mahy circle each other like wild cats on Nicolai Hart Hansen’s simple and effective set that conveys Anita’s new flat with just a sofa, some unpacked boxes and quite a few opened bottles of gin. But beneath the humdrum stillness of the surroundings runs the vicious undercurrent of Vincent’s murder. The overall effect is hypnotic and electrifying. This is one of Ridley’s more accessible scripts, rooted in reality rather than veering off into the surreal promiscuity or gothic gratuitousness he is known for. But it is no less provocative – in fact its naturalism strengthens the message. The honesty of these performers makes us question the honesty with which we lead our own lives. Truth hurts – but we need that pain in order to start the healing process.
“there is a joy in seeking out the satirical bites beneath the whimsical coating”
Michel Legrand, who sadly passed away at the beginning of the year, was a prolific composer who, having written over two hundred film and television scores, only made his theatre debut in his late sixties with his musical fantasy, “Amour”, as it has come to be called. Bearing all the hall marks of a labour of love, it started life as a bijou musical based on the short story, “Le Passe Muraille”, by Marcel Aymé. A hit in Paris, it unfortunately didn’t travel well when it was given the Broadway treatment. Despite Jeremy Sams’ reshaping of the operetta, its modesty and style couldn’t really cope on Broadway and it closed after two weeks. It is essentially a chamber piece, and still remains so, which is why its Gallic charm fits perfectly under the arches of Charing Cross Station.
It is beautifully staged here by director Hannah Chissick and it certainly recaptures the show’s original dreamlike and wistful atmosphere. Sung through entirely, we rely on Sams’ libretto for the story, in which an unassuming office worker becomes a modern day ‘Robin Hood’ folk hero. Arriving home after work one evening, Dusoleil (Gary Tushaw) discovers he can walk through walls. Although initially seeking a cure for this from his doctor, he decides to use his powers to his advantage; stealing bread and jewels to give to the whores and street vendors of the town, but ultimately to win the heart of his beloved Isabelle (Anna O’Byrne).
The surreal and fairy-tale atmosphere is matched by Legrand’s hypnotic melodies while Sams’ lyrics are crafted to perfection; bristling with internal and external rhymes. But just when you think you are getting too much tongue-twisting cleverness, we are soothed by the legato of a love song. Tushaw leads the show with a presence that has hints of Chaplin and Tati, yet his voice has its own character entirely, simultaneously clear as cut-glass but smooth as an oak-cask single malt. Similarly, O’Byrne’s soprano is the perfect accompaniment. Although essentially the story of the man who walks through walls, Tushaw generously doesn’t pull focus, and the ensemble nature of the show lets us have a taste of each character; from Claire Machin’s tart-with-a-heart through to Alasdair Harvey’s chief prosecutor with a shady past; Jack Reitman’s dodgy doctor and, of course, the Gendarmes. Like the story that, thankfully, avoids a predictable ending, the medley of stock characters avoid caricature – testament to the uniformly strong and nuanced performances.
On the surface this could appear overly lightweight, yet there is more to it than meets the eye and there is a joy in seeking out the satirical bites beneath the whimsical coating. It is an engrossing production, with definite surreal touches, enhanced by Adrian Gee’s set and costume design that befittingly evokes a Magritte painting. Yet as witty and thought provoking as it is, the underlying love story doesn’t quite pull at the heart strings quite as it should, although the endearing qualities of this mad cap musical certainly warm the heart.