Pros: A fast-paced dark comedy, packed with laughs, entertaining through to the end.
Cons: A slower second half, where some of the subtleties of the text were lost in the action.
In Martirio, Texas, Vernon’s best friend, Jesus Navarro, shoots 16 of their classmates before turning the gun on himself. The townsfolk are looking for somebody to blame, and it’s Vernon who is in the firing line.
Burn Bright Theatre’s fast-paced production of Vernon God Little captures the chaos of an adolescent life turned upside down by courts, the media and public opinion. It doesn’t matter that Vernon wasn’t there when the shooting took place, what matters is the fame that his mother’s “boyfriend” can gain by spinning the story out of control. With a punchy, action-packed script and bucketloads of dark comedy, Vernon God Little brings our obsession with reality TV and media interference in high profile court cases to a damning conclusion.
Performed in The Space, a small converted church on the Isle of Dogs, the cast make use of every corner of the venue, giving the production an immersive feel. Actors enter from a variety of locations within the auditorium, sometimes surprising me by rushing in from behind my seat. Within the intimate space, I found it difficult to see all of the action and occasionally found my line of sight completely blocked by an actor or audience member. This is an acceptable price to pay for being so close to the action.
We are treated to the skills of a strong ensemble cast. Vernon is well portrayed by Callum McGowan, a calm and subdued presence at the centre of all the chaos. He is contrasted well by Bart Edward’s Lally, the loud-mouthed, excessively charming TV reporter. Country music is used throughout with beautifully executed harmonies from an all-singing cast. The music style adds both to the small town America feel, and the darkness of the comedy.
The set is minimal, but effective – garden furniture, a picket fence and flawless Texan accents are all we need to believe that we’re in small town America. From here, it only takes a simple lighting change to transport us to Mexico. Props are used imaginatively, with shopping trolleys becoming prison wagons and clothing rails becoming buses and pick-up trucks. During a personal highlight, we see a bus “steering wheel” turn back into a banjo as the cast each reveal their own instruments and play us out to the interval.
Vernon God Little is a relatively long show for a fringe venue, and it’s length was certainly felt in the second half, where the writing seemed to have a slower pace. However, this was balanced out with enough humour to keep me engaged through to the end.
In many ways, the piece’s strengths are also its weaknesses. The fast paced, chaotic energy which makes the play so engaging also prevents it from reaching its darkest potential and there are moments when subtleties within the text seem lost in the chaos, lacking the necessary gravitas.
Overall, Vernon God Little is a thoroughly entertaining piece, delivered by a multi-talented cast. An excellent first production from Burn Bright Theatre. A company to watch out for in the future.
Original Author: DBC Pierre
Adapted by: Tanya Ronder
Director: Katherine Timms
Producer: Isabel Dixon
Musical Director: Odinn Orn Hilmarsson
Booking until: 11th April
Booking Link: https://space.org.uk/2014/11/26/vernon-god-little/