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Review – Vincent River: powerful and poignant

By Lilian Harrington

Amanda McErlean as Anita, mother of deceased Vincent River, and Patrick Shearer.

Vincent River

By Philip Ridley

Directed by Michael Beh

The Curators Theatre

Christ Church 9 Chippendall St. Milton

Season: 13 – 31 October at 7 30pm. Duration: 95 minutes no interval.

Bookings: Phone: 0418 719 354 - (for information)

Have you ever wondered how deep and intense a mother’s love can be or what length she will go to, to find out the truth about her child’s activities? This play focuses on a mother’s love and grief after her son’s murder and her reaction when she discovers her son’s sexual preference.

Ridley wrote the play in the 90’s following a fatal gay bashing in the UK, but the issues raised still resonate today.

The story of Vincent is told in a powerful and poignant style. It evokes the dimensions of love, loss, hope, and fear of living behind a lie, and the need to seek the truth. It shows the deep, loving, relationship that exists between a mother and her son and a true forbidden love found with his teenage friend. Ridley has used coarse language at times and this may offend some, but it is relevant to the situation he describes.

This two- hander, starred accomplished actor, Amanda McErlean as Anita, mother of deceased Vincent River, and Patrick Shearer, as the 16 year-old Davey, who stalks Anita. The actors can be likened to a puppeteer and a puppet as Davey, Vincent’s former lover, seeks out Vincent’s mother in order to find out more about him; finding the truth becomes a game of manipulation; Anita tries to strike a deal with him to hear the truth about her son’s untimely death, and Davey hopes to learn more from her about his friend Vincent.

Ridley’s play is set in the UK; director and founding member of The Curators Theatre, Michael Beh, has designed the production in the round. He used the clever lighting design skills of Bethany Scott, plus additional sound effects, to help bring the subtle aspects of Vincent River to life; this certainly gives the poignant social concerns addressed a heightened focus.

Further, the use of the plastic painted back drops, as well as the natural architecture of this beautiful timbered church, help highlight entrances and exits on a simple stage setting giving the set a minimalistic intensity and promoting the themes and ideas which Beh has hoped to prioritise in this presentation .

As Anita, the bereaved mother, Amanda McErlean, portrays the role with a strong vocal and consistent performance; playing in the round she worked the stage well at different levels. Her actions as the chain-smoking, grief stricken, stressed parent, who discovers for the first time that her beautiful son, who she loved was “a weirdo, a queer,” a homosexual; she finds that he has been having an affair with the young stranger she now confronts over a glass of gin. All comes as a shock to Anita, and Amanda interprets the role with some capability costumed in a mauve dress and high heeled shoes.

Patrick Shearer plays a complex teenager with issues; his initial entry and performance was low key and modest, in comparison to his co- star, but, his characterisation gradually showed more momentum and intensity as under pressure from Anita, he reveals the truth about Vincent’s death.

Audience expectation is lifted as he explains to Anita, under their “deal”, how he hid while Vincent endured a tragic gay bashing. Shearer slowly develops his role to show feelings of loss, guilt and despair, as he explains he left Vincent to die in a public toilet.

Although audience expectation is heightened as both the conflict and resolution becomes clearer, it is marred in places by some awkward scene arrangements and some seating which block a clear view of the different acting levels used on the stage which was frustrating.

The Curators Theatre, provides an opportunity for artists and LBTG groups to express their concerns, such as those seen in Vincent River, through the medium of theatre in the community, in their new home, The Christ Church, by the Suncorp Stadium. It is an interesting environment for The Curators to present some important, thought provoking initiatives to theatre audiences in Brisbane.