There is a reason danger acts are so popular, as audiences morbidly watch anticipating the possibility of imminent disaster. But while the traditional theatre stage may be a far cry from chainsaw jugglers and tightrope walkers, in the Osimous Theatre production of Vincent River part of the actor’s safety net hangs precariously below them.
In this concept driven production of Philip Ridley’s story that explores the aftermath of a hate crime, the two actors meet for the first time, having never rehearsed together. A total of six actors will repeat this concept over nine performances, never performing with the same person twice.
Indeed, there was a moment at the top of the show on opening night that felt like the performance could derail before it even truly begun. As the female actor (we have been asked not to reveal the identity of the actors) took to the stage, there was an uncomfortably long delay before she was finally joined by the actor who would play against her. In the post-show talkback, director Bob Frazer said that his instructions to his actors as to how they would begin caused some of that delay, but since we were in on the concept, there was a breathless moment as we waited for the play to actually start.
From that brief brush with a potential theatrical disaster, the two actors settled into Ridley’s story, which slowly unfolds to reveal the relationship between them. Thrown together by the gruesome homophobic murder of her son, Anita is trying to come to terms with his death and his sexuality, while Davey attempts to rid himself of the memory of having found him beaten to death in an abandoned railway station.
Originally set in the East End of London, there are no accents here to denote place or socio-economic status. There was a grittiness that is eluded to, but is never fully realized in what should be one of the poorest areas in Britain. Instead, in this performance at least, Anita and Davey come across as very middle class, which was at times very much at odds with Ridley’s story and language.
There was a surprising dance quality to the proceedings as the two opened up to each other, made even more surprising given the two had never rehearsed together. Perhaps it is a natural outcome as the two actors must anticipate each other’s movements, but the ebb and flow, with its slow and somewhat predictable revelations, was at times very compelling.
As an actor’s exercise, the concept behind this production of Vincent River will send shivers up the spine of anyone that has been on stage, akin to the actor’s nightmare of being caught naked onstage. “I love the concept, but it was fucking hard” was the conclusion from the actor playing Davey during the post-show talkback.
For the audience though it never quite had the same level of danger, and we must rely on finding its strength from the script and the two brave actors on stage.
But that was last night; there are still eight more chances something could go disastrously wrong.
Vincent River by Philip Ridley. Directed by Bob Frazer. An Osimous Theatre production. On stage at the Little Mountain Gallery (195 East 26th Ave, Vancouver) until September 20. Visit https://osimous.com for tickets and information.