Robert Chevara’s tense production of Philip Ridley’s Vincent River comes to the tiny Trafalgar Studio 2, and proves to be a shocking game of cat and mouse set against the backdrop of a hate-crime murder in Shoreditch Rise.
Anita (Louise Jameson) has moved from her previous home into a flat with just a few cardboard boxes and essentials (kettle, mirror, hotplate, cigarettes booze). There’s a sofa, covered by a tatty throw. The room is washed in pristine white.
She has a visitor, Davey (Thomas Mahy), a twitchy teenager who needs tranquilizers and who sports a black eye. He found the body – Anita’s son Vincent. Trading stories, the truth soon becomes darker than either could imagine.
This two-handed does not flinch from the unpleasant facts of life, although Anita’s denial of her dead son’s homosexuality is so engrained she recounts a long walk and unfamiliar bus journey to dispose of his collection of gay porn, to hide her shame.
Davey is hiding something, prowling the room like a dog about to attack; Anita does the same like a protective mama bear, at one point clutching Vincent’s school satchel, at another forcing Davey to smell the unwashed silk shirt her son wore on his next-to-last night alive.
As the secrets spill out, pool, and congeal, we see the sweaty sewing factory from which a pregnant Anita was ejected after an indiscretion with the boss’s son, after her workmates, envious, booby-trapped her workspace with pins.
We see the disused toilet block on the disused platform on the disused station which might be a shortcut, but which can only be reached through a gap in the barbed wire. We see Davey leading his girlfriend there to find the body, not his first trip, as he knows the train tracks, the broken glass, the cracked sink.
We see Anita’s mum dusting “mum’s cups”, bone china, delicate, three left now, two for gin, one part-broken, but proudly displayed back then.
We see Vincent, dressing well, confident, trusting. Wrong place, wrong time. Wrong orientation. Wrong reaction. We see him dead, with a mouth-full of snow, broken glass, pools of blood. So much snow in that time between death and discovery, mirroring those white walls in Anita’s apartment.
Louise Jameson beautifully evokes a mum in crisis, her adored son the only constant in her life, her best friend, but yet she didn’t know him at all. Her eyes fill with the pain she’s keeping down, her voice occasionally rasps into devastation.
Thomas Mahy is one to watch. His Davey is a swaggering child built into a body hurt by his mum’s jibes about “disgusting queers”. He seeks Anita just as she seeks him, Vincent bringing them together then ripping them both apart for ever. Tender moments as he massages her feet, fun moments as they share a joint and giggle. Heartbreak.
This play is an intense 85 minutes, and from the front row I was close enough to see the spit, sweat and snot, and to smell the “gin” and “dope”. Be aware though if you are on the side nearest the exit you will not see most of Mahy’s final revelatory speech because of blocking: for me this made it more moving as I heard him but watched Jameson portray a mother collapsing mentally before us with each word.
An exceptional play, which deals with secrets, hate crime and regret. Photo credits Scott Rylander.