Andrew claims to have read the book and to have enjoyed it, although when pressed for details seemed to remember precious little about it. Phil would have read it too if he could read properly – running his finger along the title without the benefit of his reading lorgnettes, he thought he was seeing a play about Rod Liddle, the former Radio 4 Today programme editor .
Given the curse on this production, Liddle might have made a happier source of material for the Young Vic.
Based on DBC Pierre‘s Booker Prize winning novel, Vernon God Little is set amid the aftermath of a high school massacre which – as previously reported by the Whingers – has bestowed some unwelcome topicality on the production and one or two marketing headaches.
By the end of the very long evening Phil also had one of his heads coming on.
Anyway, first things first. Entering the newly re-vamped Young Vic (its outside now resembling a rather large cheese grater – you can’t miss it) their attention was caught by the fact that the seats were for some reason bizarrely positioned at a 60 degree angle to the stage. Even more mysteriously, the seats on the other side of the aisle were positioned differently – at 30 degrees. The Whingers were beside themselves trying to decide on which side to sit, the glee almost neutralising the indignation afforded by the discovery that this was unallocated seating (see posts passim, ad nauseum).
Choosing the less sensible seating (60 degrees) gave the Whingers an excellent view of the profiles of the audience across the aisle, and if they turned their heads as far to the right as they would uncomfortably go, they could see most of the stage too. Some of the blocking (that’s a technical term) necessitated a further twist from the waist to catch what was going on at the extreme edges, but luckily Phil’s head turns all the way round, so he was fine (see right).
By this time the Whingers were fair moist with anticipation, of course. Their eagerness to attend had already been stoked up to the max by another episode in the story of the curse of VGL: a few days ago, one of the actresses in the production (Siân Reeves) fell through a stage trapdoor which had been left open by mistake by “someone” and broke five ribs, something which is really, really terrible and NOT AT ALL FUNNY IN ANY WAY, PHIL.
The theatre’s artistic director David Lan is reported in The People as saying just “We wish Sian a full and speedy recovery” but presumably most of the communication going on is between lawyers and insurance companies. The Whingers have also subscribed to the Health & Safety Executive‘s website in the hope of further updates.
Phil was eying the stage to see if he could spot that infamous trap door. Concerned for the well-being of the remainder of the cast, he wondered if he could persuade Andrew to test it out by hopping on stage and perform his party piece tap dance from Thoroughly Modern Millie (the movie, not the theatrical travesty, obviously).
Spotting what he thought must be the offending trap he asked one of the programme sellers (who are actually giving away a photocopied production list – the programmes also aren’t ready) for clarification. “I just don’t know” was her rather terse response. Unnecessary, he thought.
Anyway, after all this build-up, the production was destined not to live up to the promise and so it turned out to be.
Tanya Ronder‘s adaptation, Rufus Norris‘s direction and Ian MacNeil’s set work seamlessly together to transform Pierre’s dar, wry, thoughtful, hard-hitting, amusing satire into a piece of clumsy, over-staged farce – John Waters re-located to the deep south with a bit of Orton thrown in for good measure (note to Mr Norris: watch Ace in the Hole to see how it should be done).
This is no reflection on the excellent cast whose hard work playing multiple roles, singing and playing the occasional banjo is quite breathtaking and you would never guess that this was only the second preview (delayed to assimilate Ms Reeves’s understudy).
No doubt Ms Ronder worked just as hard cramming every scene from Mr Pierre’s novel into the script. So much so that we were still there three hours after the curtain had gone up (or hadn’t, actually, but that’s another story)
Interestingly there is an interview with DBC Pierre in today’s Independent:
Apart from offering “Mexican swearing tuition”, [Pierre has] given director Rufus Norris a completely free hand with adapting the book. He hasn’t even read the script. “I’m not possessive of the content and I really don’t think you should put more than one artist on a job.”
Well, perhaps he should have read it as it might have restored his dwindling sense of ownership. Anyway, it goes on…
But he’s thrilled by the young actor Colin Morgan, who plays Vernon. “He’s absolutely spot on. I think it’s the first time I’ve had an image in my head of Vernon. I didn’t really picture him for the book. If you look in the text, all you know is that he has long eyelashes and dodgy hair.”
Whether Mr Pierre had actually met or even seen Colin Morgan (left) is not recorded but on this occasion at least Mr Pierre is spot on. Morgan (who has yet to graduate from drama school) gives a remarkably assured performance and manages his role as the dramatic centre of the piece with terrifying aplomb in one so young.
But back to the negatives: the ugly set seemed to be constructed from MDF, clingfilm and whatever was left over from the Young Vic’s new cladding. Its scrappy look seemed to cause many of the production’s problems. Like the direction it had far too much going on – sofas, door-frames and screens being pushed around, all adding to a general lack of cohesiveness. At times you just didn’t know where to look. Or why.
If it resembles anything else in the West End at the moment, it’s probably The Hound of the Baskervilles. The text seems to be treated as no more than a convenient base on which to drape endless visual and self-mocking conceits -imagine a week of Zandra Rhodes‘ outfits flung onto a single wire coathanger.
There were so many times when the play teasingly seemed to finally be coming to an end that Phil was put in mind of the interminable Lord of the Rings : The Two Towers. When release eventually came after almost three shambolic hours it couldn’t have been soon enough.
There was one particularly unfortunate moment towards the end when Vernon was dramatically flown towards the flies but was forced to deliver his big speech to the back of the stage, the single chain from which he was suspended having spun him away from the audience (note to Mr MacNeil: try two chains before the opening).
The Whingers went to this production with pocketsful of goodwill. What little was left by the end goes to Lorraine Bruce, Andrew Clark, Mariah Gale, Penny Layden, Mark Lockyer, Colin Morgan, Nathan Osgood, Joanna Scanlan and Ray Shell (the performers) and possibly the odd farthing for Mr Norris for not suppressing their talent and energy.
The rest was prodigally thrown away and we still have no idea what was supposed to have happened at the end.