It’s been years since I’ve seen anything at the New Theatre and shame on me (I need a clone to go to everything that’s on and wouldn’t a clone of me make the Arts scene happy?)
I will admit, in the first 15 minutes of this show, I was desperately trying to figure out an escape route that would get me as far away as possible from what was happening on stage. What on earth was going on? What is this random cacophony of noise? Is there a narrative? Have I just been thrown into Hell to watch incoherent theatre for eternity?
And then, I gave into it and got it and dare I say, kind of enjoyed it. It’s not easy to translate a book into a piece of engaging theatre and this book especially would have had its challenges. Tanya Ronder has taken DBC Pierre’s book ‘Vernon God Little’ and tried to capture the style of the book in a theatrical context and so initially, especially if you’re not familiar with the book, this show feels like it is bad drama school at its height. But it grows on you and in the end its ideas and energy convert you into a believer.
The play essentially explores the character of Vernon Little, small American town teenage boy, whose best friend has just gone on a shooting rampage in his high school before turning the gun on himself and now, in a search for answers, Vernon is called in for questioning. With the predators of sensationalism circling like vultures, Vernon soon finds he is considered an accessory and his journey of accusations and twisted truths and blackmail has just begun. It is a play that explores the manipulation of media and truth, the seduction of fame/infamy, and the public’s love of sensationalist journalism. It doesn’t really paint anyone in a positive light and seems to suggest that we will all abandon our own sense of ethics (if we ever possessed them in the first place) in order to get what (we think we) want.
Once you let the style flow over you and give in to the satire and absurdity of form, I think you will quite enjoy this. There’s certainly some inconsistencies in accent and the cheese of the show will make you feel like you’re drowning in a lactose intolerance haze but overall, the director, Louise Fischer, has produced a very tight ensemble show that is to be commended. I think she has brought out the best in this collective and it is clear the cast are having great fun in the madness of the script. Then, when a moment of still focus or concentrated ensemble work or choreography is needed, that cast jump in action. Fischer has done a fine job.
I was also impressed with the quality of most of the actors in the show. This cast is absolutely committed and the quality of skill was high. This play asks a lot of them but they gave it their all and Fischer has clearly given them a safe environment in which to take these risks. It reminds me how much talent is on the Sydney scene as mainstream tends to stick to the chosen few and there feels like there’s very little diversity. But recently, with more exposure to the independent scene, it’s obvious there is a big pool of talent out there and I hope mainstream theatre takes a chance and steps outside its comfort zone to cast from a wider pool.
One of the most impressive things about ‘Vernon God Little’ is the set, designed by Tom Bannerman. It’s got so many wonderful playing spaces inside it and gives a cheeky, farcical edge to the play. The revolving doors, the sheriff’s stars crafted decoratively as well as a mobile for play and status, the colour and use of levels was a terrific vehicle for the director’s vision. The set told quite a bit of the play’s story and style and endowed the play’s sense of fun, twists and turns, quite literally. It's a great versatile and sophisticated set.
This is not the sort of play you see every day and I can say, it will test your ability at the start but persevere through the initial incoherent energy and it should all fall into place and you’ll hopefully enjoy what it has to offer. And watch some of the cast- I think they’ve got a bright future ahead.