Park Theatre, London – until 14 April 2018
It’s impossible to comprehend the unbelievable pain and complete disbelief of being told your child has been murdered. Parents raise their offspring being constantly alert for the trip-hazards of life. We bore them and it’s in the contract that we must keep them safe. That fear, that they may come to harm, never goes away, no matter how old they get.
So my heart went out to Louise Jameson’s East End mum, Anita, in Philip Ridley’s harrowing, one-act play Vincent River which opened with not so much a roar but a full-throttle cry of anguish at London’s Park Theatre.
Her only son, on the threshold of life, was the victim of a hate crime. In the wrong place, at the wrong time, he was slaughtered by a bunch of drunken yobs, spoiling for a fight. Sadly, in London right now, this is happening all too often, with lives destroyed by teens wielding knives and wanting to prove themselves.
But Anita never really knew the full facts about what happened to Vincent. They’d had an exchange of words about him going out – and then she learned that he was dead. No time to say sorry. Ridley’s fiercely powerful two-hander may only run for 80 minutes but it packs an emotional punch that left its opening night audience reeling.
We all know how hard working-class East Enders are, it’s in their DNA. Here Anita, a single, middle-aged, unemployed, mum has moved into a new flat in a bid to escape the past.
But a boy won’t let her forget. He’s been tailing her for weeks, trying to pluck up the courage to talk to her.
Now he’s in her flat, pumping out attitude and menace.
He talks in estuary English, that Multicultural London accent so popular among the capital’s young, and he exudes hostility, or, at the very least, ambivolance.
But instead of being afraid Anita rounds on him, demanding answers.
It turns out that he found Vincent and called the police – and now he’s haunted by what he saw.
“I don’t want to keep seeing him! I want him to walk out of my head – please!!”.
But it’s not that simple – and neither is Davy, Anita’s nocturnal hoodie visitor, who knocks on her door sporting a black eye and looking for salvation.
Over the course of this compelling drama we learn a lot about both tough-talking, fiesty Anita, and her young guest, and even more about the play’s third, unseen, character, Vincent River.
There are moments that are hard to listen to – and to watch – but it never loses its intensity or pace.
Robert Chevara directs with assurance, always keeping the focus on Anita and Davy and never letting the tension slip, not for one second.
Davy is like caged animal, prowling around the flat, desperate to talk but unsure about what to say. Both want closure and both are overwhelmed with questions.
When we do finally hear the truth it is shocking, graphic and disturbing. Every parent’s worse nightmare.
Jameson, who has matured into a fine character actress, lets out a tortured howl that must have startled theatregoers in Park200 next door.
She is consumed by grief and momentarily lets her guard down. It is a terrifically poignant performance.
Newcomer Thomas Mahy makes an impressive start to his professional career with this portrait of a complex, misunderstood and troubled youth who is struggling against bigotry, prejudice and familial expectations.
His accent strays a little in times of emotion but his performance is always riveting.
The more he reveals about himself the greater understanding we have of all three participants in this bruising ménage à trois.
Davy is a complicated character and it takes Anita’s dogged persistence to get the heart of him.
Finely written, searingly honest, angry, and tragic, this is very much a play for today – even though it was written 18 years ago.
It is uncannily prescient and reveals the far-reaching consequences of a moment’s madness.