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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Trafalgar Studios 2

By Matt Wolf

  Lynda Bellingham and Mark Field/Ph: Dan Wooller

Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer finds its own, potent East End equivalent in Vincent River, the Philip Ridley drama that lands with considerably greater force in its current incarnation at the Trafalgar Studios 2 than it did in its miscast, underdirected Hampstead Theatre premiere in 2000. Not in a long time have my earlier thoughts about a play been so thoroughly revised as they are here courtesy of director Rebecca McCutcheon, which allows for a taut two-hander bringing young actor Mark Field and a revelatory Lynda Bellingham into a potent cut-and-thrust across 85 minutes. Warning: sit too close, or at an infelicitous angle to the postage-stamp-sized stage, and you may be more directly caught up in proceedings than you might have wished. But the play delivers as both a grievous tale of bodily evisceration and a rending narrative about a mother learning far too much too late about the proclivities of her gay son. Sure, he may no longer be called Sebastian, and the setting is the mean streets of Hackney, east London, not Williams's florid American south, but the American master's comparably short, sharp shocker carries over even to Simon McCorry's sound design, which charges a largely bare stage to near breaking point and beyond.

The bearer of the full, awful narrative isn't a family relation, as is true of Catherine in Suddenly Last Summer, but, instead, a nervous teenager, Davey, who resolutely does not want to be called David. And, on the evidence of what we discover, sounds scarcely less inclined to make an actual life with his (unseen) girlfriend - or so the prodding of the grief-stricken Anita (Bellingham) gradually makes plain. At first, Davey seems every bit the fidgety stalker, who has shadowed Anita for three months and followed her to the new home she is having to make for herself, following the inevitable abuse that has accompanied public acknowledgment of the sexual predilections of her brutally murdered son. As Anita offers gin and tonics out of cups, Davey knocks back painkillers as if they were cashew nuts and attempts to come to terms with the recent death from cancer of his own mother - thereby paving the way for each character to seek out a surrogate child and/or parent as the case may be. (Their one shared move toward eroticism is, as it must be, nipped in the bud.)

Vincent doesn't appear - thank heavens - via flashback but he certainly seems a UK-style Sebastian. Described as Mr Aesthetic, he is remembered for playing an angel in the school nativity play, while Anita's gentle singing of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star marks a rare lapse into bathos. That he was twice Davey's age when he died only amplifies Anita's desire both to protect Davey and to enable him to know fully who he is, so that his parental influences not rest entirely with a reportedly cold, emotionless father who doesn't come to life even on a roller coaster. Or so we're told.

The two actors frankly leave their Hampstead forbears in the dust, Field nervily kicking at the air as if bursting with desires and feelings he can scarcely name. Local TV favorite Bellingham is quite simply peerless, as she chronicles the play's build-up to a final cathartic scream that leads this play toward pretty much the same abrupt ending as its American predecessor. Note, for instance, the way she listens to an extended reminiscence from Davey that must be just about the worst thing any mother could hear. Whereas Vincent River seven years ago seemed to be paddling its way uneasily upstream, this production is sure to put audiences in touch with those most perso


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