Theatre Review - 'Vernon God Little'

Posted on: 25 February 2011 by Alexander Hay

Brilliant theatre adaption of a brilliant (and blackly comic) novel

Vern, played by Joseph Drake, finds he's no longer in the driving seat

An unbalanced world where justice turns into a form of entertainment and in which murder is something to be marketed is savagely satirised in Tanya Ronder's ambitious stage adaptation of DBC Pierre's darkly riotous Booker Prize-winning novel Vernon God Little at the Young Vic Theatre.

The hapless protagonist Vernon Little, played by Joseph Drake, is fifteen years old and lives with his mother in Martiro, a flea-bitten Texan town. His best friend just massacred sixteen of their classmates before killing himself. The town wants vengeance and turns its sights on Vernon who is wrongly accused of being an accessory and arrested at the start of the story. Treated as a scapegoat by everyone, Vernon manages to escape to Mexico but the further he runs, the more he is assumed to be a serial killer. He is eventually betrayed by a fame-obsessed blonde bombshell and ends up on death row, where the television networks invited viewers to vote on which of several murderers should be executed.

Revamped following a successful first staging in 2007, this fast paced, bitingly funny play explores the way in which tragedies of this kind are exploited for commercial gain – you could call it the commercialisation of horror – by many of the individuals peripherally associated with them.

Rufus Norris' production is cartoonish and profane, providing a lively portrait of small-town corruption and hypocrisy that is both playful and clever and where chaos almost becomes a way of life. Yet, while it is imaginatively staged with chairs, sofas and shopping trolleys becoming cars and other vehicles, and makes its points in a forthright fashion, it is also rather bitty, veering from the brilliant to the clumsy, and needs more emotional substance.

However, Norris elicits excellent performances from his hard working cast, of whom the victimised adolescent’s bewilderment, defiance and alienation, Peter de Jersey as a loathsome character who will stop at nothing to become a TV presenter, and Clare Burt as Vernon's grasping mother, for whom the arrival of a new fridge/freezer is more important than the fate of her son, stand out.

In short, this bitter black comedy which also features a rollicking soundtrack of quintessential American hits including songs by the legendary Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams, provides a thought-provoking evening in the theatre that you will not forget in a hurry.

Plays until March 5
Box Office: 0207 922 2922
Press: Laura Myers 0207 922 2979

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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