Fun and frolics at the Young Vic: Vernon God Little
One of the things I love about the Young Vic is that, well, it feels young which in one sense is ironic because it is celebrating its 40th birthday but in another is its raison d'etre, the antidote to the M&S brigade down the road at the Old Vic (and yes I am one of those too on occasion).
There is always a lively, Friday-night feel to the bar that you just don't quite get elsewhere and I also can't imagine any other theatre putting on a play such as Vernon God Little. I feel I should say this quietly but it's lively and fun, you see.
Based on DBC Pierre's Man Booker winning novel it is a modern tale of a Texas High School massacre but it is also a darkly comic satire on a society that has become materialistic, brand-obsessed and fame-hungry, preaching Christian values with as much thought as discarding a half-eaten Barbie-Chew-Barn chicken mix.
The book is richly comic and fast-paced and the Young Vic proved they could capture the essence of the story nearly four years ago with Tanya Ronder's original stage adaptation. The Young Vic also proved that you can pluck an actor fresh from drama school and give them a starring role to excel in.
Revived as part of the 40th Birthday celebrations this production once again captures the mad and morally insane world of protagonist Vernon who's best friend Jesus has gone on the shooting spree before turning the gun on himself. Thrust into world's media spotlight, Vernon's small Texas town of Martirio scrabbles around for someone to blame.
All the innovation of the first production is back, the desk chairs and sofa's that become cars, for example, as are the use of songs and music and occasional dance routines. It feels like you are watching a TV spectacular which I guess is the point but against all this chaos Vernon's story has to shine through.
If you could just get a job, help me with the bills, be normal, everything would be fine again, I know it would.
You have to believe Vernon is caught up in events beyond his own control, in essence the play only really works if you root for him, which is a difficult performance to pull off in the whirlwind of everything else that is going on.
He is rarely on his own on stage and the only real insight you get into his isolation is when he is talking to Jesus' blood spattered, guitar playing ghost, who has created the mess and left him in it.
Colin Morgan bowled me over as Vernon in the original production, a performance that leap-frogged his stage career, ironically, to a handful of plays at the Old Vic and then into the title role of BBC TV series Merlin.
Joseph Drake this time takes up the reins and once again the Young Vic has cast well. There is a lot for a new actor to contend with - singing, moving bit of set, props, dancing, fighting and wire work but he takes it all in his stride pushing through to show the heart of the character.
In fact I couldn't choose a weak performance among the ensemble. In 2007 another rising star, Mariah Gale played the two girls in Vernon's life: Taylor and Ella. Gale is now a regular fixture in the RSC ensemble notching up Miranda in The Tempest and most recently the titular Juliet. Lily James took on the dual role this time, playing a superbly vampish, shallow and sexy Taylor next to the pre-pubescent yet sexually aware Ella.
And I couldn't get enough Johnnie Fiori as the larger than life, always jovial and food-obsessed Pam. Her incredible voice won spontaneous applause from the audience.
The performance I saw was an early preview and there were times when what was going on on stage did borderline chaos but I'm sure this will have been ironed out. Sound levels also need some work. Duelling guitars in the court room is a great idea but the actors were occasionally drowned out by the playing.
None of this spoilt my enjoyment - the teenagers in the row in front constantly checking their mobile phones nearly did until I had a word. The liveliness of the bar spilled over into the auditorium with the predominantly younger audience less reserved about audibly responding to what is going on on stage.
After the play reaches its toe-tapping, hand-clapping finale the encore really did feel like a genuine call for 'more please' and I might just have to steal myself along to Waterloo for a second viewing.
I give it five stars for pure fun and entertainment. It runs until March 5 and press night is tomorrow so expect more reviews. For now there are a couple on UpTheWestEnd.com which have an average rating of 3.5/5.
Another Criminal Justice connection. Clare Burt who plays Vernon's Mom played a nurse in three episodes of the series.