Vernon God Little
DBC Pierre, adapted by Tanya Ronder
To celebrate their 40th anniversary season the Young Vic have brought Vernon God Little, last seen in 2007, back to the theatre in a slightly updated version by Tanya Ronder. Even Justin Bieber gets a reference this time round in Rufus Norris' glorious staging of the novel by DBC Pierre.
In this dark satirical comedy critiquing society's need for villains, all the American South stereotypes are ticked off: the big black mamma always eating fried chicken, the quasi tourettic pastor with his uncontrollable hallelujahs and the homophobic Sheriff who loves to throw his weight around. Texas may mean 'friends' in the Texas Caddo Indian language, but, unfortunately for Vernon, his flea-bitten Texan town of Martirio translates as 'martyrdom' in not only Italian, but Spanish, Greek and Portuguese too.
Poor Vernon is just misunderstood. An awkward, simple kind a guy who, after his friend goes on a shooting spree, gets stuck with the label 'villain' ascribed to him by the local community. Even his mother fails to offer comfort with her words of 'Even murders are loved by their family', but perhaps she speaks from experience?
Vernon God Little reminds us of society's willingness to judge and be the judge. Today innocence, rather than guilt, must be proven and the media are all too quick to snap up a juicy story, exemplified in the character Lally.
But real villains, such as Lally, get their comeuppances and good does prevail, just like in a fairytale. Vernon may not have a fairy godmother as such, but his encounter with many a character along the way helps him to realise that, at the end of the day, he is most certainly Vernon God, rather than Vernon Dog Little.
Joseph Drake as Vernon gives an outstanding performance and inhabits his awkward character superbly. Drake acts with great intensity and his frustration at the constant accusations and setups his character encounters is almost palpable. An actor with a gift for comic timing, his delivery of some of the more witty dialogue is devoured by the audience with great pleasure.
Drake is one of three actors who only play one role; the other seven cast members share the remaining 43 characters between them. In an array of wigs, costumes and facial hair, this versatile ensemble demonstrate great skill in multi-roling and so Vernon God Little constitutes not only a successful page to stage adaptation, but also a perfect vehicle in which to admire the art of acting and performance.
Underscoring contributes greatly to the evening's proceedings and results in a heightened sense of emotion and atmosphere throughout the show. Although on the whole the use of music enhances, rather than distracts from the scene in question, this cannot be said for its use in Act Two's courtroom which becomes a somewhat self indulgent jam off between guitar strumming attorneys and has the judge screaming 'amen' and 'sustained' à la Aretha Franklin. Rather than support the scene, the music takes over.
No fancy revolves or tracks are needed in this production as Ian MacNeil's scenery smoothly glides on and offstage courtesy of the company. Almost everything is on wheels and just like the cast, the props also partake in some multi-roling, with couches becoming cars. The use of casters gives the piece great fluidity and there is something wonderful about being able to marvel at a scene change in action. These highly stylistic pieces of choreography contribute greatly to the show's polished feel as they help maintain its speed, energy and pace.
A tale of murder may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Vernon God Little's devilish charm comes from its witty dialogue and wonderful array of characters. It is definitely more humorous than haunting and at times more surreal than scary and that is what makes Pierre's tale so delectable. Where else could you encounter amputee porn, death row phone-ins and gastroenteritis all in one night?
Playing until 5th March 2011
Reviewer: Simon Sladen