Vincent River

Philip Ridley
Célia Dugua in association with Park Theatre
Park Theatre (Park 90)

Louise Jameson as Anita and Thomas Mahy as Davey Credit: David Monteith Hodge
Thomas Mahy as Davey Credit: David Monteith Hodge

Anita is unpacking in the new flat she’s moved to after being harassed by the neighbours in her old home following the murder of her son Vincent four months earlier. There is a young man whom she thinks has been following her. He is standing outside now. She opens the door and calls him in. Did he kill her son? She thinks he might have done.

Certainly there is something this ill-matched couple share and discovering what gives the play its plot and audience may have guessed before its revelation: but that is not what it is about. It is about love and loss, about the way people judge others, the cruelty they show them.

It was a girl who phoned the police to report finding Vincent’s body in the toilets of a ruined railway station in the East End but it turns out if was this lad, Davey, who found it while taking a short cut as he walked her home after their engagement party. He can’t get what he saw out of his head. Anita, still struggling with realising her son’s homosexuality, senses this isn’t the full story.

Davey wants to know all about Vincent, and that leads them to reluctantly start sharing life stories. For one frantic moment of passionate kissing they seem to have found a solution to what they are searching for but it isn’t sex; it is Vincent they both need: the loved son and the man Davey calls “my oxygen”.

When Davey, who has claimed not to smoke or drink, begins to knock back the gin with Anita and lights up a joint, both begin to release their emotions and confront the horror they know and the horror they need to know.

This isn’t a subtle play but it makes its initially unlikely confrontations seem real by its very rawness. It is a script that that is a gift to the actors while placing huge demands upon them. Director Robert Chevara handles the mood changes skilfully, like the relaxation as Davey gives Anita her first taste of reflexology, heightening further what follows and the actors deliver magnificently.

Newcomer Thomas Mahy as Vincent at last describes what actually happened, the paralysis terror produces and almost explodes in a horrifying description of what a queer-basher gang had done to his lover. As Anita, Louise Jameson seems to suppress all her feelings into continuing her unpacking until snapping a cup handle releases her anguish. This is passionate playing that pulses with feeling. In a production like this, Vincent River becomes an important play.

It was first seen in 2000 and you might think things have changed since then. There is no derelict station at Shoreditch but a smart new Overground one, we have gay weddings and acceptance. Or do we? A director’s note in the programme claims that in recent years hate crimes against LGBT people in the UK have surged by nearly 80%. If he is right, this revival is a timely reminder as well thrilling theatre.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton