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A CurtainUp London London Review
Vera Vera Vera

Bobby’s dead and you’re still breathing. That’s a fucking walking talking tragedy that is.  — Lee
Vera Vera Vera
Ted Riley as Sammy, Abby Rakic-Platt as Charlie  (Photo: Simon Kane)
The Royal Court Theatre has long championed new writing, particularly from first-time and young writers. Every year they give a budding career a kick start as part of the Young Writers Festival for writers under 25. This time around the chance is given to 23 year old Hayley Squires. Vera Vera Vera, and no, there isn’t a character named Vera in it, is Squires’ first play, described as a blackly comic piece about what we are willing to fight for. Vera is an allusion to the Vera Lynn soundtrack played between scenes, which punctuates the harsh reality of war with glossed-over memories of patriotism and a golden age.

The one-hour playlet centres around the death of a soldier, Bobby, who is being hailed as hero by the media — but is that really true? His messed-up family have different ways of dealing with their grief, but it mostly involves arguments and violence. His brother Danny (Tommy McDonnell) threatens anyone who calls Bobby a martyr and wants to put up a sign reading “no brown people” at the funeral. His (perhaps?) sister Emily (Danielle Flett) fears that he had the only good heart in the family, and is desperate for drink and drugs to take away the pain. His mother won’t leave her room, and his cousin Charlie (Abby Rakic-Platt) sets out to stop a schoolyard fight from happening —by punching one of the fighters.

The design by Tom Piper is rather nice – a simple concrete-style structure which passes for an underpass and a run-down home. It is surrounded by real turf, fag packets and vodka bottles, giving a fresh outdoor scent to the intimate attic theatre. Director Jo McInnes has made the most of the scenic transitions, allowing the actors to interact and have cheeky moments of judgment on one another. The pacey script is adhered to, and I suspect they’ve reigned in a lot of emotion, although it still remains quite shouty. Fortunately McInnes is helped by some talented actors who deliver the subtlety in their facial expression that isn’t quite present in the script.

Particular mention should go to Abby Rakic-Platt as the young Charlie who excels at drawing comedy out of a sad and angry character. Her unsure tiptoeing around love interest Sammy (Ted Riley) and general frustration at the way people communicate – be it Shakespeare or just “boys” - is the most engaging part of the whole production. Her honesty and directness also prevent the back-story monologue from being too angsty and unnatural. The older, more violent characters suffer slightly from “Eastenders’ syndrome” (where everyone is a “slaaaaaag” and no one is anyone’s “muvver”). That said, the actors show guts and shamelessness, which is difficult in such close proximity to the audience.

And what of the young writer herself? The dialogue is very strong. Squires has an ear for syntax and musicality, as well as some arresting moments of character interaction. She’d fare very well on TV drama. Unfortunately the theme feels a little naïve and the story is incomplete — and not just because of the running time – it was quite confusing at several points. Who is related to whom? Why did everyone’s name have to end in the sound “ee” ? Given a bigger project I think the talented writer could inject some grit and honesty, but this project isn’t yet there. Shouting loudly doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be heard.

Following the success of their residencies in an empty shop unit in Elephant and Castle and in the old cricket bat factory in Peckham, Vera Vera Vera will be revived as part of the Royal Court’s Theatre Local project in Peckham later in the year.  

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Vera Vera Vera
Written by Hayley Squires
Directed by Jo McInnes
Starring: Abby Rakic-Platt, Tommy McDonnell, Daniel Kendrick, Danielle Flett, Ted Riley
Design: Tom Piper
Sound: David McSeveney  
Lighting: Stephen Andrews  
Running time: One hour  without an interval  
Box Office: 020 7565 5000  
Booking to 14th April 2012  
Reviewed by Tim Macavoy based on 26th March  2012 performance at The Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)  

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