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Vincent River

Philip Ridley

Green Carnation Company

Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

October 12-19, 2022; 1hr 30min

Maddy Myles and Rory McMenamin in "Vincent River" at Hope Mill Theatre. All pics: Shay Rowan
Maddy Myles and Rory McMenamin in "Vincent River" at Hope Mill Theatre. All pics: Shay Rowan

The most powerful stage productions take complex themes and distil them to their simplest form before adding poetry and theatricality to create magic.

Green Carnation Company’s production of Vincent River is a prime example; clear but artistic direction transforming a collection of competing thoughts into a coherent and moving piece of theatre.

Shame, guilt, violence, hate, grief, murder, homophobia are all addressed, understood and ultimately left unresolved in one powerful act, unfussily directed through the prism of a simple story of a mother and a son.

Anita’s only child has been murdered, a victim of his sexuality - a sexuality that has come as a shock to the mum he has left behind. Davey stands in her front room, strangely obsessive about Anita and her loss, but clearly also harbouring his own dark secrets.

Philip Ridley’s script is a game of tennis that requires two very talented players. In Maddy Myles and Rory McMenamin, this production has two extraordinarily well cast and fabulously talented players.

Wearing the worries of the world across her face, Myles is utterly believable as the parent whose child was the one positive thing to emerge from a troubled upbringing. As Davey, McMenamin shows the audience both innocence and a depth of sinfulness in the same breath.

The pair circle each other, trading tangential anecdotes that say nothing and everything, until eventually their stories collide in a way that feels both inevitable and shocking.

Like the direction, the staging never overshadows the stories and words that are the beating heart of the play, instead subtly adding richness to the drama. Angular, dust sheet-covered walls are surrounded by barbed wire and a few simple objects to place us in a front room filled with boxes. Moving in or moving out? Crime scene or art studio? Eleanor Ferguson’s production design creates a transitory space that could represent all, or none, of the above.

A solitary orange light is all that is needed to perfectly represent a street light shining through a window yet to be furnished with curtains. Orange turns to red during one necessarily visceral speech - a brilliant but simple touch from lighting designer Ellen Butterworth-Evans.

Ridley’s text is grounded in realism but infused with ethereal imagery. He achieves that rare success of being able to accurately describe both true, first love as well as the danger and power of anonymous sex.

In the wrong hands this material could feel false, but these are the right hands. Myles and McMenamin are perfect listeners and responders as well as emoters and performers.

It is clear co-directors Dan Ellis and Dan Jarvis have given the cast the room to shine while adding subtle touches of brilliant direction. In one sequence, as Davey describes walking towards the dead body of Anita’s son, it is clear the two are not only side-by-side on stage but are actually in the abandoned station together, experiencing every sight, sound and smell.

Attitudes and representation may have changed, but Vincent River is painfully prescient. Given that, this production could easily have been misjudged. Instead, it is brilliantly simple and brilliantly complex. Brilliant.

More info and tickets here


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