Vernon God Little @ Young Vic, London

cast list
Colin Morgan
Lorraine Bruce
Mariah Gale
Penny Layden
Joanna Scanlan
Mark Lockyer
Ray Shell
Nathan Osgood

directed by
Rufus Norris
It’s impossible to watch this adaptation of DBC Pierre’s Booker winning novel without thinking of the recent appalling events at Virginia Tech. It’s also difficult to watch this, admittedly often entertaining, show without questioning the point of bringing this work to the stage at all.

Shorn of Pierre’s colourful prose style, the narrative is reduced to little more than a cartoon coupled with some heavy-handed satire. Thats not to say the production doesnt have its moments, indeed its performed with energy and invention by a talented cast, its just that its hard to discern what, if anything, the play is trying to say.

Tanya Ronders adaptation sticks faithfully to the plot of the novel. Vernon, a teenager living in a small Texan town, has been falsely accused of being an accessory to a mass murder after his best friend, Jesus, shot 16 of his classmates before committing suicide. His precarious situation is compounded by an unscrupulous would-be journalist who isnt going to let a little thing like Vernons innocence get in the way of a career-furthering story.

Rufus Norris’s production is a big, noisy, colourful thing, a play that assaults the senses and isn’t shy of going way over the top to grab a laugh (the scene where the reporter has sex with Vernon’s plump Texan mom on the sofa being a case in point.) The cast attack their multiple roles with enthusiasm, turning in some excellent performances, and Norris gives us a number of memorable set-pieces, including a unique performance of Johnny Cashs Ring Of Fire, performed by Vernon and his new Mexican friends after he flees across the border. The production is quite visually inventive, sofas double up as motor cars to entertaining effect, and youre never too far away from a musical interlude, perhaps with some banjo-strumming or line-dancing thrown in.

The second half is mainly taken up with a court room scene, where Vernon is hooked up to electrodes so his every interjection results in an electric shock. As media satire goes it would have felt heavy-handed anyway, even if what happened at Virginia Tech didnt cast its shadow uncomfortably over these scenes. The pacing in the second half rather flags as a result.

As I said, the chief joy in this production was the cast: Colin Morgan, not yet out of drama school, was excellent as Vernon, baffled, petulant, horny, a plausible teenager in an impossible situation. Mark Lockyer was suitably smarmy as the manipulative charlatan reporter and Joanna Scanlan gave a very entertaining performance as Vernons mom.

Its just for all their efforts, it was difficult to ignore the fact that these were caricatures in the broadest sense, with only Morgan providing a glimmer of something human and real at its centre. There was also a feeling of look at the funny Americans that permeated the whole thing look at how they capitalise on tragedy to make a quick buck and think that the coleslaw that comes with their bucket of fried chicken constitutes one of their five-a-day. For all its creative energy, this is a production that leaves something of a bad taste in the mouth. Colin Morgan, however, is a talent to watch.

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