Easy to Get Stuck On Vincent River Very Bloody Good

kyra harper and matthew gorman
photo by scott gorman
It is so often from the small independent theatres in this city where audiences are treated to arresting new work electrically performed and directed and that is certainly the case with Cart/Horse Theatre’s production of Philip Ridley’s Vincent River which plays at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space until February 20th.
Vincent River was first produced in 2000 at Hampstead Theatre in London England and Cart/Horse’s production marks its English Canadian premiere. The play centers on Anita, a woman who has just lost her son to a brutal hate crime, and Davey, the sixteen year old boy who has been following her ever since. When she finally invites him into her house a two-side interrogation begins during which both Anita and Davey are forced to confront their deepest secrets and most repressed and primal emotions. Ridley expertly paces this eighty-five minute piece, weaving a relationship for his two characters that becomes immediately intimate, harrowingly intricate and increasingly twisted as their intoxicated grief pushes them to the limits of desperation.
Director Stewart Arnott confines us all to the limits of Lindsay Anne Black’s sparse set, which immediately provides us with the sense that this family is broken, as Anita and Davey are trapped within with their relentless mounting tension inevitably releasing the floodgates of their hearts. It is intensely captivating to watch the journey of their relationship evolve from strangers to compatriots, complicit in one another’s most powerful and passionate emotions. All of theatre’s most effective power dynamics are at play here, especially the desire for characters to leave, but their inability to do so, the slow, crafty drawing out of the truth, and precise and sometimes surprising, switches in status. Arnott has created an evening where one dares not breathe too loudly lest she misses something.
What brings Vincent River to life, of course, are the powerhouse performances of its two actors. Kyra Harper plays Anita, her working class hardness and the grit and fortitude of a survivor is immediately apparent. She has grown bitter, but still has an irresistible sensuality. She is maternal, but aggressively so, and loneliness swathes her every move. Harper gives Anita vivid individuality and conflicting feelings of love, shame, acceptance and denial, all swimming around like tadpoles in her belly. There is a moment at the end of the show where she lets out this sound of pure anguish, which is chilling to the core and a far more effective choice than crying. She is gripping; for eighty five minute she has the audience, mercilessly, by the heart. She is equally matched by Matthew Gorman, who plays Davey, awkward and twitchy at first, mumbling with the distinct diffident insecurity of adolescence, who grows more and more comfortable in his own skin as the play progresses. Empathetic, tortured, romantic, naive, curious, forlorn, with internal pain and resentment, obviously built brick by brick from childhood, Gorman masterfully creates a beautifully nuanced character while still keeping him within the emotional range of a sensitive sixteen year old boy. There are many lovely moments in Davey, his subtle response to a word like “feather” and the way he characterizes a romance built upon artistic enlightenment. Indeed, Gorman’s performance is so detailed and rich; it is easy to become entirely lost in it and to forget that it is even a performance at all.
Vincent River is socially relevant and fervently political, but that never overwhelms the fact that it is also a story about specific people and the things that they hold most dear to them, which I think has the ability to make it even more powerful and compelling. If you have the chance to see only once theatre show in Toronto this week, I would recommend making it Vincent River.

Vincent River plays at the Extra Space at Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Avenue) until February 20th. Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. For more information or to book your tickets please call 416-531-1827 or go online to http://www.tarragontheatre.com/tickets/.  

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