It’s not easy being Vernon Gregory Little. You’re not yet sixteen years old and already you’ve been accused of being complicit in the brutal murders of seventeen school friends, your best mate is a bloodied gay ghost, and your mom’s only concern is how to pay the electricity bill and buy the new refrigerator that she’s set her heart on.
The New Wolsey Young Company’s production of Tanya Ronder’s modern-day odyssey sparkles with both the brilliance of the writing and the exuberance of the young cast. Vernon, brought to vivid life in an accomplished performance by Joe Reed, makes for a superlative anti-hero who takes on a corrupt system that seems hell-bent on his downfall.
While Vernon God Little has prolonged elements of farce, the sad truth is that it’s a skewed reflection of the worst excesses of George W Bush’s America; a slice of pure blue-collar, boot-scootin’ Texicana satire that will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to shop at Walmart or eat at an all-you-can-eat BBQ buffet. Tex-Mex accents are flawless throughout – no small feat for a cast who are not yet formally trained.
The original novel by D B C Pierre is subtitled A 21st Century Comedy, however Vernon’s journey is anything but humorous; if this outing suffers in any way, it’s by being played for laughs a little too often so that some of the characters slip into caricature. Vernon God Little ought to be played straight, so that the absurdity of the protagonist’s plight shines through. That said, it’s a perfectly presentable production of an extremely challenging play for our time.
The set, designed by director Rob Salmon, is a disparate collection of taste-free detritus that reflects perfectly the chaotic backdrop of Vernon’s upbringing. Some sound issues need to be worked out, especially when using the hand-held microphones, and raucous volume occasionally replaces diction during high-octane moments. All in all, though, Salmon and his team have created a proficient piece of kitsch theatre that does striking justice to the original work of both Pierre and Ronder.