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A CurtainUp London London Review
Vernon God Little

God? You think a caring intelligence would wipe out babies from hunger? Watch decent folk scream, burn and bleed every second of the night and day? That ain't no God, that's just people ---- Lasalle
Vernon God Little
Colin Morgan as Vernon
(Photo: Keith Pattison)
DBC Pierre's first novel Vernon God Little won the Booker prize in 2003. It is a rapid ride through a Texas where schoolchildren are gunned down by a disturbed classmate and the television news crews manipulate events in an excuse to satiate a demand for irresponsible and sensational journalism. Rufus Norris, along with many of his generation, was excited by the novel and saw the possibility of turning it into a stage play. Hugely ambitious, this production will succeed for those who know and were blown away by the book but may find it more difficult to win a traditional theatre audience. But that is their loss!

Tanya Ronder has taken on the task of adapting the novel for the stage and retains all the vitality and zany insanity of the original language. With a cast of just nine hard working actors playing more than 50 roles, staging Vernon God Little is no mean feat. Rufus Norris creates for us the strange otherworldly place that is Texas with its fast food barbecue restaurants and large people whose only exercise is turning the steering wheel of a car and for whom culture is a reality television programme. I don't wish to offend Texans— I remember Dallas and Houston with stunning art collections and high opera and the historical perfection of the restoration of the Alamo in San Antonio. But it is in another Texas, home of the Davidian massacre and school shootings, in a small town called Martirio, famous for its barbecue sauce, that Vernon God Little is set.

Vernon Gregory Little (Colin Morgan) is a fifteen year old boy whose school friend, a Mexican boy, by the name of Jesus Navarro has killed sixteen of their classmates after being bullied for wearing girl's 80% silk panties. In a lynch mob minded community anxious for explanation and someone to be held responsible and imprisoned, Vernon comes under suspicion. His single parent mother Doris (Joanna Scanlan) agrees to lodge the lounge lizard, Eulalio Lesdesma, also known as Lally, a television news reporter (Mark Lockyer). Vernon is arrested by his mother's friend Deputy Vaine Gurie (Penny Layden) and soon finds that Lally is more interested in incriminating him than helping him. Vernon is released on bail on condition that he regularly sees psychiatrist Dr Goosens (Mark Lockyer) who lives up to his name and sexually assaults Vernon. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Vernon flees to Mexico after Ella (Mariah Gale) has helped him to raise money by setting up a sexual scam to blackmail an old man. Now hunted for another murder in Martirio, Vernon gets in contact with Taylor Figueroa (Mariah Gale), his fantasy babe girlfriend. The whole ends in a delicious and astonishing twist that I refuse to reveal here. If you want to know, you will have to see the play or read the book.

This is of course Colin Morgan's play. Not due to graduate from drama school until this July, his wide eyed schoolboy Vernon credibly drives the play's events. He has that hapless air of a piece of flotsam in jeans and trainers, swept along by episodes which are increasingly more bizarre. Of course, Mark Lockyer plays the arch villain, Latin lover Lally and doubles as the evil psychiatrist now wearing a long white wig and Chelsea boots and a brown corduroy jacket. I think I recognised Dr Goosens in the audience at the Young Vic on opening night. Lockyer has this kind of part down to a sinister perfection, he is opportunism personified with the morality of a jackal. The rest of the community play their larger than life, quick change parts, all contributing to the Texas-scape which also uses music, like blue grass and country, to conjure up atmosphere.

Rufus Norris gives us a fun and vivid production with a sofa that doubles as a cop car, and the chaotic Mexican traffic of people with lights on their helmets whirling around on wheeled chairs. In Martirio there is a line dancing, thigh slapping ho down with Vernon in a chorister's gown, and in Mexico a salsa party. We see a sting operation where soldiers descend on ropes and scenes on death row. For all its frivolity, Vernon God Little will make you re-examine the values of a materialistic, media obsessed twenty first century society with darkly humorous insight.

Written by DBC Pierre
Adapted for the stage by Tanya Ronder
Directed by Rufus Norris

Starring: Mark Lockyer, Colin Morgan
With: Lorraine Bruce, Andrew Clark, Mariah Gale, Nathan Osgood, Penny Layden, Sian Reeves, Joanna Scallon, Ray Shell
Set Design: Ian MacNeil
Costume Design: Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting: Paule Constable
Sound: Paul Arditti
Video and Projection Design: The Gray Circle
A Cuba Pictures co-production
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7928 6363
Booking to 9th June 2007
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 8th May 2007 performance at the Young Vic, The Cut, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo, Southwark)
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