Vernon God Little, The Space Arts Centre - Review

Set up in 2014 by producer Isabel Dixon and director Katherine Timms, Burn Bright Theatre was founded on the belief of equal opportunities in theatre.

Already to be commended for having seven women in its nine-strong production team, BBT in their latest production Vernon God Little re-jigged the casting breakdown from the original script, to ensure that the cast had an even gender split.

Written in 2003 by DBC Pierre – an Australian author whose own life as a young man mirrored certain events in his novel – Vernon God Little is a multifaceted black comedy/satire that counts among its many themes, trial by media, the ubiquity of reality TV, the oppressed not ‘having a voice’ and the alienation of today’s youth from the status quo.

Those well-read will recognise the debt this tale has to literary classics such as Catcher In The Rye, Catch 22 and so on – basically any tale where a (relatively young) protagonist speaks the truth and his honesty earns the world’s undying, irrational emnity.

As the book contains big, broad themes, any adaptation of the play lends itself to bold, sweeping vignettes. This play has them by the bucketload, with 10 cast members playing 40 different characters in a variety of locations. While the majority of the play is played ‘in the round’, action also takes place in the balcony and seldom-used corners of The Space Arts Centre so that every square inch is used judiciously.

The acclaimed 2007 run of VGL at the Young Vic had cast members dashing to- and off-stage at a breathtaking rate, and utilising items such as sofas on wheels to represent travelling by motor car. BBT’s adaptation shows a similar penchant for inventiveness with props, and half the fun in watching this show is seeing the cast playfully interact with each other and the audience.

While VGL touches on serious subjects, it rarely indulges in sturm und drang. Music plays a big part in the show in evoking the Texas landscape, whether it’s classic records by the likes of Glen Campbell or the cast themselves singing and playing instruments to country songs. In some ways this marriage of music and storytelling reminded me of Dennis Potter’s Suez crisis drama Lipstick On Your Collar, which used songs of the era to highlight scenes where fantasy and reality were blurred.

What BBT have accomplished with a restricted number of actors and resources is quite remarkable, with no detriment to the play’s entertainment value or storytelling. I look forward to their next venture.

Vernon God Little runs from 24th March – 11th April 2015 at the Space Arts Centre, London E14 3RS

© Michael Davis

CAST: Stacey Evans, Elinor Machen Fortune, Lauren Harvey, Laura Hyde, Milli Proust, Nathan Armarkwei, Bart Edwards, Charlie Haskins, Callum McGowan, Chin Nyenwe.

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