didn't much like Tanya Ronder's adaptation of DBC Pierre's novel when
it premiered at the Young Vic in 2007. But this revised text and new
production by Rufus Norris is a big improvement.
remain are largely those of the source novel, and for much of its
length this new version is a naughtily enjoyable black comedy.
novel is a
scattershot satire of all things American, using as its core a hapless
Texas teenager wrongly accused of one of America's regularly scheduled
high school massacres. He quickly gets caught up in a media storm
driven by an ambitious and unscrupulous reporter and, almost in
passing, encounters a corrupt court, corrupt preacher, corrupt border
guard, corrupt showgirl, corrupt prison system and some nice Mexicans.
and Norris's direction are at their best when they keep their eye on
the boy and play down the social satire, letting his misadventure have
the feel of a nightmarish Alice in Wonderland.
supermarket carts turn into automobiles, thanks to Ian MacNeil's clever
design, allowing one scene to flow fluidly into another as in dreams,
while a revival meeting choir starts line dancing to their hymns and a
courtroom becomes the stage for lawyers with duelling guitars.
is in fact a
lot of music in the production, ranging from the haunting ballads of
the ghost of the boy who really did the shoot-em-up to a string of
ironically juxtaposed country music standards.
every time the production pauses to look at Pierre's satirical targets
or give voice to his philosophising, the energy level drops dangerously
- most noticeably in a jailhouse discussion of God that, although
heavily edited and much improved since the 2007 version, still stops
the play dead in its tracks.
interest, energy and theatrical imagination flag significantly in the
last half-hour. Instead of spiralling into Wonderlandish mania, the
courtroom scene just meanders into incoherence, the final media satire
(a TV show in which viewers vote on which convict should be executed)
goes by almost unnoticed, and the ending, though clearer than it was in
2007, is still a whimper rather than a bang.
his first professional performance, succeeds in holding the stage and
our sympathy as the hero, by wisely playing him as the passive observer
of his own adventure.
De Jersey is
given somewhat less to do as the reporter-villain than his 2007
predecessor, and thus too often seems to be wandering in from some
other play. With most of the rest of the cast playing four or five
roles each, Lily James registers as, among others, a nice girl and a
nasty one, and Nathan Osgood as a string of very different figures.
Click here for our review of the 2007 production
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Review - Vernon God Little - Young Vic 2011