Vincent River

Vincent RiverElaine Hudson as Anita and Beejan Olfat as Davey

Vincent River
might sound like a dried-up outback waterway, but is, in fact, the rather contrived name of a deeply poignant play & a tragically-smitten, offstage, gay character. Penned by British playwright, Philip Ridley (popularly, you might know him, as screenwriter, & director, of, for example, The Krays), some time ago, it has enjoyed a recent revival elsewhere, but this is its first outing on an Australian Stage; (hey, good name for a website that).

Opening night gave nothing away to nerves: everything was polished and buff. Of course, the thin, all-too-compliant cushions which adorn the benches of the basement theatre at ye ol' Fitz test the mettle of even the most ardent theatregoing enthusiast, yet, mostly, River flowed evenly, if gushing a little on occasion.

River, the man, has come to a particularly sticky and ignominious end, gruesomely murdered in an East End 'beat'. If the play's & writer's aim was and is to provoke discussion about the spectre of gay-bashing and the media's arguably selective and cavalier attitude to these crimes against humanity, it's achieved it, since this was the very disagreeable topic of discussion, over a more agreeable glass of white, apres performance.

Narratively, the action is centred on picking apart the truth, so that Vince's teenage lover, Davey, can be absolved of at least some of his guilt, as a riveted, bystanding witness and Anita, Vince's mother, still coming to terms with his homosexuality, can understand how her son died.

Davey is hauled into the new abode of Anita, with whom he pleads to relieve him of his memories. It was he who found the body, he confesses. However, in revealing only a fraction of the truth and embellishing it with almost, but not quite plausible lies, he arouses the woman's infallible intuition. Thus, she, in turn, agrees to help, but conditionally: Davey must face-up & 'fess-up to his whole role in the drama. Thus, the primary dramatic tension lies in the laborious, yet never laboured, unfoldment of the tale, which has plenty of sting.

Barbed-wire, cardboard and glaring lighting proved fittingly grim media to deploy, set-wise; Tom Bannerman & Matt Schubach having made these choices. While the minimal changes in lighting states were effective (less is, so often, more), the boxy set was a little overwhelming and claustrophobic: the sort of thing that plays well in pre-production discussion, as an wholistic, 'pure' concept (cardboard conveys the idea of insecurity and impermanence), but which doesn't work quite so well in practice. Again, less would've been more.

The AFI-nominated Elaine Hudson (Speaking in Tongues, Griffin; Burnt Piano, Belvoir; Dying Breed & STC’s 2009 Streetcar Named Desire) is Anita, using every ounce of her considerable craft to eke out a vital, resilient, admirable woman, comfortable in her own skin and rising to the challenge of meeting her new life, head-on, sans son; an all-too-familiar portrait of a grieving, solace-seeking mother, left alone in the world. At times, however, the craft & technique, in its very slickness, seemed somewhat at odds, ironically, with a truly authentic, or at least convincing portrayal of emotion. Veritable boy wonder, award-winning playwright and actor, Beejan Olfat (History Boys, MTC; Angels in America, New) achieved more, for mine, with less technique, or, at least, less discernible technique. Overall, director, Jonathan Wald (Hilda, Seymour; Titanic, Newtown) could have opted for less schizoid performances, with more consistent angst. Yet these observations, in the scheme of things, are mere quibbles, since the total effect was affecting, achieving the other apparent aims of the play: above all, invoking the seminal Edmund Burke adage (evil triumphs when good men do nothing); thereby taking the vital subject matter into a much broader historical context.

On the more specific plane, the gruesome, accentuated details of a horrible death serve, powerfully, to redress the cover-up of crimes against gay men, in particular: while tabloid media might fawn & dwell over the death of an innocent Palestinian child, in Gaza, or an American soldier, in the 'war on terror', when's the last time it showed similar sympathy for the slow, violent, painful death of a gay man, at the hands of homophobes?

Laura Carboni's bruising makeup was expert; costumes, by OTTO Continuum were well-chosen; Simon Stollery's dialect coaching was almost seamless; Brenton Amies stage management was unobtrusive. And if it was Miled Achi and Kyle Walker who were responsible for the sophisticated programme design, kudos!

All-in-all, a strong play, on an important subject, which has meaning and impetus even beyond that. And a very robust production!


Hot Seat, ROAR Theatre, and 2SER in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers present
Vincent River
by Philip Ridley

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre | Cnr Dowling and Cathedral Sts, Woolloomooloo
Dates: January 4th - 31st, 2009
Times: Tues - Sat at 8pm, Sun at 5 pm
Bookings: 1 300 GET TIX or www.RockSurfers.org

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