Vincent River: “A Play Of Spell-Binding Intensity”

The Wardrobe Theatre hosts an unusual gem of student theatre

The atmosphere of nerves is entirely palpable in a small crowded space on the opening night of the independently staged production of Vincent River; an atmosphere that is likely to make any audience feel anxious.

However, despite the tension of first night nerves, in the hands of these two actors, (Gemma Chilvers and Ben Schroder) one can rest assured and feel surprisingly safe.

The production, directed by drama student Owen Petty, begins slowly with a somewhat stilted script, often dancing on the edge of cliché, but eventually escalates gracefully towards an impressive emotional climax.

A Two Man Show Well Worth the Watch!

The play juxtaposes two distinct characters, Anita (Chilvers), a widowed mother, and 16-year-old schoolboy, Davey (Schroder). Through their dramatic interchange the audience finds themselves suddenly and almost unwillingly dragged into a story of death and homophobia.

Foremost it is a story about storytelling; Anita and Davey enter into a kind of implicit agreement to exchange information through repeated dramatic re-tellings. While the scene and set itself never shifts, the characters transport the audience to an often trembling re-animation of events.

While this device can feel laboured by virtue of repetition, the blocking of perceptive director Petty and the constant wry expression of Chilvers ensures the play retains a dramatic realism.

Chilvers’ performance is spell-binding. A brazen character of perfectly restrained emotion, her mannerisms are rarely pushed to an extreme. She appears defiantly stable for an actor playing such an unstable character and for this reason holds the audience’s attention. Although perhaps an obvious point, this is often difficult to pull off in a two-man show.

The play is divided quite distinctly into two halves, the latter of these very much belonging to Ben Schroder, who eased into what became an extremely emotionally affecting performance.

Despite this split, there is a surprising unity created by the invigorating chemistry of these two actors. They warm to each other slowly and steadily throughout the performance, with balanced blocking ensuring one never upstages the other.

This is a difficult task with such a static play and a theatre where seeing the stage is almost impossible. In fact, the small space lent itself to a play of this intensity. There were moments in which the audience got a distinct sense they were intruding upon the private intercourse of the two characters.

Great credit and admiration is certainly due to director Owen Petty, who brought this production to life without the aid of the usual channels of Bristol theatre. As a result, there was a sense this play had been heavily invested in by all involved. Despite any minor shortcomings, for this reason alone it is definitely worth a watch.

‘Vincent River’ is running from 30th January – 1st February at the Wardrobe Theatre in the White Bear (St. Micheal’s Hill) and tickets are £5.