For those unfamiliar with Philip Ridley’s work, his fast-paced, hard-hitting whirlwind into a brutal homophobic assault may be too much to take. Sadly, that makes this piece all the more necessary today, as homophobic crime flares up on the streets of a country – and world – being torn apart. With only two characters, we are truly in the underbelly of London’s East End and Ridley is on form in this, his most intimate setting. He creates our world in microcosm, in one simple living room of one run-down old flat. In this most sparse of settings, Louise Jameson (Anita) and Thomas Mahy (Davey) tell the story of Anita’s son Vincent, felled in a river of hate, blood, and fear.
The play opens with a forceful staging of two wounded souls at opposite corners of the stage and opposite corners of life: newly engaged Davey is just exploring manhood and Anita sees the wintry years of her life slip away with the murder of her only child, Vincent, some 18 weeks prior. We don’t know why Davey is there or whether or not he is connected to (or responsible for) Vincent’s murder. Is he the killer? Does something else draw him to Anita’s home? The penny will drop for you before it will for Anita, and their tragedy will unfold all the more powerfully when – all too late – you can see it coming.
Marty Langthorne’s lighting design and Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s set and costume frame the text simply, but without imagination, throwing the entire responsibility of carrying this story on the two actors. Fortunately, director Robert Chevara ensures that the cast hardly falter with no gimmicks but truly imaginative and subtle staging.
Special mention to the magnetic and magical Jameson whose four Offie award nominations are clearly well deserved. With any justice, she will win this time. There is no emotion unexplored, no empty pause, and every move and gesture entirely justified – and earned. Her scene partner – Thomas Mahy – I hope is watching closely because before him – and us – we have a true master of the craft to learn from every night.
And learn he does: though emotionally a little faltering at first, the tension in the space between him and Jameson is on top form from before the first line is spoken. By the end we see his early stiffness was supposed to be hesitance, as all inhibitions evaporate and we see his true nature poured on stage to disbelief of not only Anita, but to all of us allowed into this slice of life in the East End of London. Were I picky – and I am – I would cite Davey’s unconvincing eye-makeup and accent which is a bit over-the-top, a bit cartoon. But even I cannot deny the young man’s charisma and burgeoning skill.
A revival well worth seeing. Far superior to the original version I saw many years ago, this play has a team that truly understand the poetry in the grotesque of Ridley’s work.