nytheatre.com review by James Comtois
June 11, 2008
Philip Ridley's Vincent River is a partially engaging, sometimes dull, and thoroughly depressing story about two individuals confronting grief and guilt over a young man's death.
The play opens with two strangers—a middle-aged woman named Anita and a teenaged boy named Davey—meeting for the first time in Anita's rundown East London flat. It turns out that Anita's son, the eponymous Vincent, was brutally tortured to death in an abandoned railway station by a group of unknown assailants.
Davey tells Anita that he was the person who discovered Vincent's body and told his girlfriend to phone the police. Anita isn't buying it. He wouldn't want to track her down several weeks later if he were just an innocent bystander ("There's no shame in just finding a corpse, you know," she astutely points out). She's convinced that Davey knows more to the story than he's letting on.
Well, does Davey know more than he's letting on? What do you think? Let's face it: if he were merely the kid who found the body and called the police, there wouldn't be a play.
Therein lies my problem with Vincent River: even with only an 80-minute runtime, the story feels thin and padded. We know Davey knows what happened to Vincent and Anita knows Davey knows what happened, so once we've established who these characters are and what the situation is (which takes less than ten minutes), we're simply waiting for Davey to stop stalling and finally come clean to tell Anita (and the audience) what happened to her son. In fact, I'll go so far as to state that the middle portion of the show feels like dead weight.
Having stated that, when Davey finally offers his confession, although it doesn't offer any surprises, it's very effective and more than a little heartbreaking. I was particularly taken with how the play deals with Davey's feelings of overwhelming guilt and betrayal.
Although throughout the play there are moments I wasn't sold on (particularly scenes where Davey puts the moves on Anita and she reciprocates) Ridley offers a great deal of authenticity to these characters, which is aided by Deborah Findlay's and Mark Field's compelling and believable performances. Steve Marmion's direction and sound design (consisting of only one sound cue, by my count) is tight and concise.
Do I sound ambivalent about this play? Well, it's because I am. This production of Vincent River is a decently written, well directed, wonderfully performed piece that still left me feeling cold at the end. At the show's core is a very engaging and tragic story about loss and guilt. It's just too bad it takes far too long to get there.