Phillip Ridley's Vincent River has for the first time been relocated from London to Cardiff by theatre company No Boundaries. Emily Garside reviews:

Philip Ridley’s Vincent River was first performed in 2000. That 18 years later it is frighteningly relevant is worrying, but it is a credit to No Boundaries that they have staged it. Not only staged it, but in relocating the play to Cardiff, interrogated the broader meanings – the idea that homophobia runs throughout is still relevant, and a issue that extends beyond both the time and location of the play’s original setting. With some powerful performances, it is a moving, sometimes shocking and thought-provoking production.

Transposing the play to Cardiff (which was in fact the suggestion of Ridley himself) has a profound effect on the impact of Vincent River. Hearing familiar place names and situating the events a short distance from the performance has a literal ‘bringing home’ effect. Although some liberties are taken with the logistics to fit Ridley’s narrative, feeling it is somewhere nearby reminds the audience that this isn’t the kind of thing that happens ‘somewhere else’ but as easily happens in Cardiff as it does London.

Vincent River Cardiff

Aly Cruickshank (image courtesy of The History B0y Photography)

Aly Cruickshank as Davey gives a slow build of a performance. It’s reserved and measured but really captures the conflict Davey goes through. Victoria Pugh’s Anita in contrast is loud and powerful from the off, and while at first she appears a little overwhelming, Pugh’s performance allows her to pull at the threads of Anita as we watch her unravel over the loss of her son. There is a true sense of the relationship between them building over 90 minutes of real-time action, from a sense of awkwardness at this meeting of strangers to the intimacy of their shared experience and the anger at their loss. Both actors understand the nuances of this well, in tune with the other’s performance.

Vincent River Cardiff

Victoria Pugh & Aly Cruickshank (image courtesy of The History B0y Photography)

Vincent River is directed with intelligence and sensitivity from Luke Hereford, who teases out performances with a sense of the play’s importance without it being deemed as ‘worthy’. There’s a respect for the bigger issues present and yet the focus remains on the storytelling. The intimacy of the venue, with the audience feeling very much like they are in Anita’s living room, means the actors can be understated and still resonate. Hereford directs in real time with a patience that trusts the audience to invest and go along on the journey with the characters. And it pays off – the final minutes are shocking, evocative and powerful.

The true power of Vincent River is in Ridley’s writing, which characteristically doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics at hand. Yes, the central concept is the homophobic attack that Vincent was victim of. But deeper than that, Ridley interrogates the homophobia engrained in our society. From parental micro-aggressions to internalised homophobia, what he brings to light is that the issues LBGTQ+ people face isn’t only that of physical attack, but a lifetime of struggles against who they are. To that end the attack on Vincent is a punctuation, the culmination of a world of threats that many people face every day. 18 years on from the original and this feels more relevant, not less, and that is a truly shocking facet of this play. It’s precisely why the story should still be told.

★★★☆☆

Vincent River runs at Jacob’s Antique Centre, Cardiff until 21 September 2018. For further information, please visit the website here.

For an interview with director Luke Hereford, please click here.