Vernon God Little

Mon 19th – Fri 23rd August 2013

reviews

Joshua Phillips

at 17:20 on 22nd Aug 2013

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‘Vernon God Little’ is a deeply unsettling play. Nauseating, perhaps. This is not because of the swearing; nor is it because of the violence; nor is it because of the graphic depictions of sex and rape. You can find far worse within a hundred metres of the play’s theatre on Niddry Road. No – what disturbs me about this play is the production itself, and not in a good way.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by DBC Pierre, ‘Vernon God Little’ is a story of murders, manhunts and the mass media, set in the small-town Texas. Jesus Navarro commits suicide after killing sixteen in a school shooting, and the glare of both Texas’ law-makers and news-readers falls upon his only friend, Vernon Little, who becomes the focus of the community’s need for vengeance and the media’s need for a scapegoat. The story is by far the best thing about this production, and it is one of the only things into which the Italia Conti Ensemble had no real creative input.

The adaptation of ‘Vernon God Little’ which the Italia Conti Ensemble put on is a musical one - one that juxtaposes school shootings with whimsical country music, scathing social satire with Simon and Garfunkel. An interesting concept, and one that could truly work were the actors to find enough of a voice with which to grab the audience and to actually engage the viewer. Out of the cast of twelve, roughly none of them can approximate a Texas accent. The best of the bunch doesn’t sound right; the worst sounds like a wounded hippo. This might sound like it’s just me being pedantic, even pissy, but I think it genuinely makes the production still harder to engage with.

By the play’s final ten or fifteen minutes, the production has found a voice. It feels comfortable enough in its own skin to become genuinely interesting and engaging, rather than simply queasily dull. Were the rest of the play to be acted with this depth of feeling then it might be a very good production. Sadly, though, this remains firmly in the realm of what could have been.

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Hannah Greenstreet

at 22:39 on 22nd Aug 2013

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It is difficult to describe ‘Vernon God Little’. If you were to put a gun to my head, I would say that it’s a black-comic, epic, musical, Texan romp through DBC Pierre’s novel of the same name. When Vernon’s only friend perpetrates a high school massacre, Vernon is charged with accessory to murder and, due to the fallout from this accusation, he spirals into more and more trouble, encountering a vengeful TV conman, a rapacious psychiatrist, and a girl he once had a fling with, who will do anything for fame.

The cast could be criticised for their hammy Texan (and then Mexican accents) but I’m prepared to view the exaggerated performances, which sometimes lack nuance, as part of the heightened, bizarre world of the play. Nonetheless, there are still some subtle and well characterised performances, such as Jack Leonard as Lally, and Lucy Ware as Mom. Mike Prince is very strong as Vernon, delicately conveying the varying emotions of his past; from extreme bafflement at the absurdity of the situation, to genuine pain at his friend’s terrible act and the injustice of it all.

The songs, delivered with verve and accompanied by enthusiastic, if cheesy, choreography, add to this sense of the ridiculous. This is a town that sentences people to death for crimes they did not commit, and whose residents randomly break into song.

Sometimes the darkness of the subject matter and the comedy jostle uneasily against each other. I felt uneasy being expected to laugh at attempted male rape, for example. The play also feels too sprawling; it could have done with being cut, both for coherence, and to ensure the audience are fully engaged throughout. As it stands, there are definite lulls in pace and atmosphere, although the production regains momentum in the brilliantly cohesive ending, in which Vernon gives the town and the audience the performance they were demanding from him all along.

Although this production of ‘Vernon God Little’ does not offer profound truths about the justice system or the human condition, despite sometimes gesturing towards them, it is good fun. And, if you are prepared to embrace the uninhibited enthusiasm of the production, then you will have a good time.

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