Since its premiere at The Hampstead Theatre in 2001, Philip Ridley’s Vincent River has stunned and inspired. Now, it’s back for an all-too-brief run at Finsbury Park’s Park Theatre.
Without giving too much away, it’s about two people who have a deep and unexpected connection, as they both recount a traumatic event they experienced from different perspectives. Anita is a weathered former factory worker of London’s East End, and Davey is a hot-headed boy from the estates.
The entire play takes place in Anita’s new but already cigarette-stained living room. It’s sparse and open, the actors stalking around just a sofa and a couple of cardboard packing boxes. The nature of The Park Theatre makes it a perfect setting for the play – the audience’s seats touch the edges of the stage, making it an unignorable and at times uncomfortably close experience.
Under the discerning eye of director Robert Chevara, actors Louise Jameson and Thomas Mahy occupy the space in a way that’s visceral and unforgettable; pacing in pained anguish, slumping sluggishly, sometimes rushing forward in bursts of uncontrolled emotion. They are totally involved in each other – they touch occasionally, but even when they don’t touch, a physical energy crackles between them. This is why their performances are so powerful – at times, they seem to spin wildly. The actors totally lose themselves, in a way that’s so intense it’s almost concerning.
Their performances are totally different but equally engaging. Jameson’s role has many facets; desire, grief, humour, intoxication. And she switches between them with devastatingly convincing energy. The play excels in depicting a kaleidoscopic spectrum of emotions. It has moments of extreme trauma and grief, but with Ridley’s assured writing and Jameson’s equally assured acting, it has moments of real comedy, and real warmth. No mean feat for something with such dark subject matter.
Meanwhile, Thomas Mahy plays the obstinate, lost Davey with assured loucheness. Starting off uncooperative and childish, the character becomes more verbal as the play progresses, ending in a frenetic monologue that is perhaps one of the most emotionally wrenching performances I’ve ever seen.
At just under an hour and a half long, with no interval, Vincent River is more a life experience than a play. It’s like being involved in an accident, or dropping a pill, or having intense sex. It hits you in a carnal, bodily way and is over almost before you have time to react or think. You come out feeling shell-shocked, confused, euphoric. It’s a truly remarkable and important piece of theatre.
Vincent River is at The Park Theatre until 14th April. More info and tickets at parktheatre.co.uk