Playwright Philip Ridley seems to be enjoying a resurgence at the moment; not that he has ever been out of fashion. This year we’ve had The Poltergeist (2020) at the Arcola Theatre and Leaves of Glass (2007) at the Park Theatre and. Now we have Vincent River (2000) at Greenwich Theatre directed by James Haddrell, the venue's Artistic Director.
A captivating and emotionally draining ninety minutes that evokes a profound and melancholy, “Wow”
Commenting on the play, Haddrell observes, “Philip Ridley’s voice is unique in theatre, fusing the heart-breaking realism of a contemporary dramatist with the symbolism of a visual artist and the lyricism of a poet.” Ridley is massively supportive towards companies putting on his plays and here, as elsewhere, he has made himself available for advice, consultation and comment. Haddrell points out that it’s clearly a thrill and obvious bonus “to have Philip on hand both in and out of the rehearsal room to make sure we tell the story the way he intended”.
The action of this two-hander takes place in realtime, a device that heightens the impact of the already intense and emotionally charged dialogue. Anita (Kerrie Taylor) at the age of 53 has just changed address and a few boxes of possessions are scattered around the floor of the lifeless sitting room in Dagenham, where the windows are still whitewashed and the only furniture is a dull sofa, a dark carpet a small drawer unit with a lamp and an occasional table. It’s probably the most lifeless set Alice Carroll has ever been asked to design, but it reflects how very little is left in Anita’s life and dramatically ensures that there is nothing to distract from the centrality of the two characters and their conversation.
She’s moved following the ghastly death of her son in a vicious attack in some local toilets; a homophobic hate crime that has left her dazed, not just because of the loss of her teenage boy but because she was not aware of his homosexuality. Added to this is the mystery of the boy who was watching her house and movements and who has followed her to the new place and is now standing in front of her. Neither knows what to expect from the looming confrontation that proves to be movingly uncomfortable for them and dramatically gripping for us.
Bursting with bitterness, resentment and grief, Taylor tears into the young lad with a tirade of questions, like an aggressive investigating officer or cross-examining barrister. Alice wants to who he is, what he knows about her son and why he’s not just come straight to her instead of hanging around for days. The air is electric. Davey (Brandon Kimaryo) is aged just 17; desperately nervous, hesitant and unwilling just to blurt out everything he knows. The pair adapt to each other. Alice mellows with the help of several gins; Davey becomes more relaxed and is forced to join her in a gin. “I don’t drink,” he protests. “You do now,” she retorts. She is in complete control of the situation as gradually she ekes out his story which he unfolds in a measured drip-feed of information about himself and her son. Now there are moments of lightness and understanding as the humanity of each comes to the fore.
The chemistry between Taylor and Kimaryo palpable. The casting is inspired. Taylor went to drama school but left a month early to go on tour. Then she secured a part in Brookside, did another play and ended up in Hollyoaks which, along with other TV roles kept her busy for years. In fact she went for 23 years without setting foot on a stage. After braving an audition she was given the lead in A Taste of Honey at the now closed Oldham Coliseum. As she observes, “... it’s sometimes quite hard when people see you as a soap actor to get seen for theatre”. After that she moved on to perform in the Caryl Churchill collection at Greenwich Theatre and then the Theatre's Pinter this April. “I’ve now gone back to my first love,” she says, and that love shows, as does the wealth of experience in character portrayal those soaps gave her. As Anita, she embodies the character’s emotional turmoil and creates a wealth of contrasts from the tyrannical to the tender; from the mother grieving at the loss of her only son to the woman finding strength in stories from the past. Indeed, the play is a masterpiece of the redemptive power of storytelling; of letting out all the bottled-up baggage and finding release.
Kimaryo knows just how to deliver this. Still in his last term at Guildford School of Acting credit must go to Haddrell for bravely casting a newbie in such a massively demanding role, but apparently Kimaryo’s audition left him in no doubt about his ability to carry off the role. His judgement has been vindicated. Traversing the emotional spectrum, Kimaryo has a presence and delivery that should come from years of experience, but he is clearly comfortably at home expressing the emotional turmoil that Davey is experiencing. He renders the opening-up of his character to perfection and masters a monologue, that runs to pages and would be a challenge for any actor, with consummate ease and compelling conviction. His is a stunning debut performance.
Ridley’s writing combined with Haddrell’s direction and the performances of Taylor and Kimaryo make for a captivating and emotionally draining ninety minutes that evokes a profound and melancholy, “Wow”. Prepare to be immersed in an absorbing tragedy and be rewarded with the very best that live theatre has to offer.