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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Vera Vera Vera
Royal Court Theatre   Spring 2012

The Royal Court's Young Writers program has made another happy discovery with Hayley Squires, whose first play is imperfect but clearly the work of a real playwright-in-the-making. It's worth seeing not just for its own merits but for the sake of being in at the start of a promising career. 

Squires tells two stories in alternating scenes, the common bonds being the death of a soldier and the difficulties of feeling and expressing clear emotions. (The title refers to songs by Vera Lynn that are heard between scenes, harking back to a time when fighting for your country and feeling open emotions were both much simpler.) 

In one plot line the dead man's brother, sister and best friend cope with his funeral, their grief confusing them by taking unexpected forms. The friend combines a romanticised image of his buddy with guilt at having kept secrets from him. The brother turns his pain into anger, at the dead man for being stupid enough to get himself killed and at anyone else within reach. And the sister turns her anger inward, fearing that the pointlessness of her brother's death exposes the emptiness of all their lives. 

In the alternating scenes a teenage cousin and the boy she likes feel their way tentatively toward romance. He fights for her honour and, hampered by shyness and a lack of vocabulary, they inch toward saying how they feel. 

The teenagers' scenes are by far the most successful, Squires capturing the innocence, comedy and sweetness of youngsters who are inarticulate, obscene, self-protective and at the mercy of both hormones and unfamiliar romantic feelings. 

She's helped by attractive and thoroughly believable performances from Ted Riley and especially Abby Rakic-Platt, with the latter's silent expression of combined delight, excitement and triumph when the lad finally kisses her speaking happy volumes about the character. 

The family scenes are less successful, as Squires lapses into clichs of language and characterisation that play like a mix of a bad EastEnders episode and a bad Cockney gangster movie. (It may well be that she is depicting people who have watched too much EastEnders and gangster movies and thus have no way of expressing themselves except through clichs, but unfortunately they play as clichs.) 

Strong performances by Daniel Kendrick, Tommy McDonnell and especially Danielle Flett, as directed by Jo McInnes, can't fully salvage this half of the play. 

Over-reliance on stereotype and clich is typical of a beginning writer, but it's something that is easily outgrown. Squires' ability to create some real and sympathetic characters, and her attempt to show that even the others are wrestling with unexpected emotions, mark her as one to watch.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Vera Vera Vera - Royal Court Theatre 2012 

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