Review | Vernon God Little: Decadent’s production gets the caustic humour but trips a little into farce
DBC Pierre’s novel excoriates contemporary America, and this production doesn’t quite keep the anger on the boil
Date Reviewed: September 21st, 2015
Vernon God Little,
Satirical in intention, the insouciance of this Decadent Theatre Company’s presentation reflects something of the subversive humour of DBC Pierre’s novel. Director Andrew Flynn elevates Tanya Ronder’s stage adaptation to almost operatic potential, albeit an opera based on the ballads and melodies of the recent American past, from Buddy Holly, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash and, in a script rich with allusion, Amazing Grace.
The fun begins before the auditorium fills up as The Lifebuoys – Emily Donoghue, Conan Kilcoyne and Eoin Donoghue – establish the music and sound design by Carl Kennedy, which is the outstanding aspect of this production, whose Texan community hints at Norman Rockwell gone horribly wrong. Vernon Gregory Little, aged 15, is the single survivor of a high-school massacre and as the only friend of the dead killer the assumption is that he must be guilty of something. While the townsfolk, including his mother, rush to judgment, the boy’s protests prove at least one of the novel’s themes: innocence is no protection against culpability.
Confusion, shame (Vernon is the victim of his own digestive irregularities), and a tendency to hang out with the underdog cripple his efforts to exonerate himself from the riot of accusation and conviction. Both physically and dramatically centred within the action, Jarlath Tivnan articulates a convincing conversion as Vernon, whose emotional eyesight becomes clearer as his predicament worsens, and he accepts his biblical fate in a Barabbas-style lottery.
Or does he? DBC Pierre excoriates expectation in his book; Ciaran Bagnall’s dust-bowl lighting heightens the play’s arid denunciation of contemporary America, but the hard-working cast can’t sharpen Pierre’s caustic hilarity and sometimes a chunk of farce disrupts Flynn’s control. Given numerous roles of which only a few actually suit them, the players speak too quickly or too loudly in accents not their own. And while the choreographic ensembles have their charm and include a notable mandolin accompaniment to a humming chorus, little coheres. Ends September 26th