Review: Vincent River (The Curators Theatre)

Patrick Shearer as Davey. Photographed by Naz Mulla.

Content and trigger warning: Please note that this production contains, and therefore this review may refer to: domestic, sexual, and homophobic violence, mature themes, spoken references to sex, and coarse language.

The Curators Theatre have christened Brisbane’s newest indie performance venue with a passionate production of Vincent River, the Queensland premiere of this work, directed by Michael Beh. Philip Ridley’s dark and brutal one-act play about homophobic violence and seeking to comprehend the incomprehensible takes place in an English flat, where Anita has moved to escape the gawking of her neighbours after the murder of her son, the titular Vincent. As Anita grapples with this loss, she must also grapple with the revelation that her son was gay, as reports reveal that Vincent’s murder was not only a senseless act of violence but also a hate crime. She confronts seventeen-year-old Davey, who has been following her in the weeks since her son’s death, and invites him inside to talk.

“The play was written over 20 years ago and yet the story resonates today because love is love, and yet intolerance still abounds,” said Beh. “While the LGBTQI message in the play is of importance, the significance of the play goes beyond this. It’s about connection and intersection of humanity.”

Amanda McErlean as Anita and Patrick Shearer as Davey. Photographed by Naz Mulla.

Both Davey and Anita are laden with their own trauma, beyond Vincent’s death – Anita ostracised from her community as a young woman pregnant to a married man, Davey with a sick mother for whom he has fabricated an engagement, both from abusive families. As Davey slowly unravels his real connection to Vincent, hungry for details of his lover’s life, he and Anita share stories, secrets, and shame. The memory of Vincent is the point around which both characters pivot, Anita as a doting mother and Davey as an enamoured partner, and their parallel stories of loss and isolation drive them together in a shared desperation for connection, comfort, and understanding.

Vincent River explores how we give and receive love, and how we could perhaps love better; the things we choose to value, and how those might differ from the people around us. The premise of Ridley’s play feels flimsy – why would anyone, no matter how delirious with grief, bring a stranger and stalker into their home with the groceries? – but this can be forgotten amidst the vivid imagery the work conjures. Although the script labours in parts, perhaps due to the constrained timeline of this chamber piece, it punches you straight in the gut when it counts.

Amanda McErlean as Anita and Patrick Shearer as Davey. Photographed by Naz Mulla.

The impeccable execution of this 95-minute two-hander speaks to the incredible commitment and talent of the actors. Patrick Shearer was a charismatic and commanding presence from his first moments on stage, embodying the many facets of Davey, and Amanda McErlean gave a strong and stirring performance as Anita. Vincent River is an emotional rollercoaster, flying between grief, horror, laughter, nostalgia, and more, and the actors handled the many rises and releases of tension masterfully. Carefully choreographed movement around the set added to the imagery of the verbal storytelling, and changing levels were used to show shifts in power and focus.

Milton’s timber Christ Church is a wonderfully atmospheric venue, and the small space made this work feel even more intimate as the audience bore witness to the unravelling of truths and the revealing of secrets. Seating for Vincent River was socially distanced and arranged on two sides of the stage, and both sides of the audience were accounted for in the staging. Set and costume design by Michael Beh captured the essence of the characters in their clothing, and graffiti-style backdrops criss-crossed with fluorescence and caution tape added to the sense of everything in the play barely being held together.

Amanda McErlean as Anita. Photographed by Naz Mulla.

Lighting design and operation by Bethany Scott effectively emphasised moments of high emotion, most notably as Davey’s recollection of the night Vincent died reaches it disturbing climax and to support the recurring motif of the hospital mural of children’s handprints; a cliché symbol of ‘togetherness’ and ‘acceptance’ amongst the dark and difficult themes of the same nature that twine through Anita and Davey’s lives. Sound design by Michael Beh and Amanda McErlean included recognisable music from British artists such as The Clash and Garbage, placing the work firmly in time and space.

The Curators Theatre have delivered another vivid and unsettling production full of intensity and intimacy in Vincent River, with sharp direction and passionate, committed performances from the talented cast.

The Curators will perform Vincent River at Christ Church, Milton, from 13-31 October. For ticketing and further information, visit The Curators Theatre website.

The Curators Theatre are entirely unfunded and independent, with all revenue (and therefore artist fees) derived from ticket sales and donations. By buying a ticket to Vincent River, or making a donation, you are directly supporting independent artists in making incredible work.

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