Cardiff theatre Company No Boundaries are bringing Phillip Ridley’s Vincent River to Wales for the first time. Emily Garside speaks to director Luke Hereford:

First performed in 2000, Vincent River is a play about homophobic hate crime, as well as the secrets & lies that surround this moment of tragedy and the grief that follows. Told in a real-time encounter between Vincent’s Mother Anita and Davey, the boy who found Vincent’s body, it comments strongly on the homophobia still undercutting society.

Cardiff-based theatre company No Boundaries has relocated Philip Ridley’s East-End set drama to Cardiff. As the company’s artistic director and director of the piece, Luke Hereford talks about the significance of this, and of Ridley’s work in putting LGBTQ+ stories on stage:

Tell us about Vincent River.

“It centres on an unlikely encounter between two individuals who have been directly affected by the recent murder of a gay man. One of them is the mother of the victim, the other found the body. In terms of plot, I have to leave it there. I can say it’s ultimately quite tragic but sprinkled with some very warm, yet darkly funny moments.”

What drew you to working on one of Ridley’s plays?

“The first Ridley play I came across was his first play T​he Pitchfork Disney. There is a bleak, horrific beauty to his writing ​and as I discovered more of his work, the way he uses language continued to capture and constantly surprise me.

“In terms of personal impact, Phil is one of few playwrights – at least that I have come across – who normalises LGBT characters and situations. When he broaches LGBT issues, he always manages to talk about something that we haven’t talked about before, or handles it in a way that we seldom see it handled. Rather than Vincent River​ being a coming out story, or a homophobia issues play, is actually about the consequences that hate has, about dealing with grief. It all just happens to be framed within a homophobic attack, which I feel somehow makes it more pertinent.”

It’s important audiences don’t think this sort of thing only happens in London

You’ve relocated Vincent River to Cardiff. How does that effect a play by a writer so strongly identified with London?

“Funnily enough, Ridley actually suggested it. It sort of caught me off guard, as like you said, he is so strongly associated with London and particularly the East End. But he justified it by saying that it’s important audiences don’t think this sort of thing only happens in London. It can happen right on our doorstep. There’s a lot of references to location within the play and so hopefully, to a Cardiff audience, it will make it all the more vivid.”

What makes this play important to stage now?

“We are at a time where we are somewhat encouraged to practice bigotry, due to the people who are currently in power. In the last three or so years, I have personally noticed the sorts of comments from passers-by – if I’m holding hands with my partner – that I thought were long gone. I wouldn’t say I feel unsafe, but I would say that there is less encouragement to be accepting, and some people are really holding onto that. It’s a scary time. I have no idea how far it might go, but staging the play right now makes it somewhat of a warning.”

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

It’s a challenging play for performers – how have you developed this play and supported to the actors in bringing it to life?

“It certainly is a challenge! There is nothing more that we need to do with a play like this other than tell the story. In order to do that in the clearest, simplest way, it’s about letting the actors take the process where they’ve needed to.

Victoria Pugh and Aly Cruickshank are both extremely intuitive, intelligent and very trusting of one another, vocal about their thoughts right from the start. It’s an actor-led process. The text keeps taking us to places we didn’t think we would be going, uncovering a plethora of themes that we only hope makes the play all the more effective for a wider audience.”

What do you hope audiences take away from this play?

There is so much to take away, but I think we want audiences to start thinking about how much more of a way to go there is. I also think it’s very telling that ours is the third production in the UK this year; we cannot ignore the fact that the themes of the play ​continue to affect the LGBTQ+ community. I hope our audiences will start to think about what else we can do to make progress in our everyday lives.”



Vincent River runs at Jacob’s Antique Centre, Cardiff, from 19 – 21 September 2018. For further information, please visit the website.