Rufus Norris’s tremendous 2007 production of Vernon God Little returns to the Young Vic with a mostly new cast but identical energy and bravura in its hilarious portrait of redneck America on the loose.
DBC Pierre’s Booker Prize-winning novel is made to look obvious stage material in Tanya Ronder’s utterly faithful but ingenious adaptation, while Norris and designer Ian MacNeil create a world of small town bigotry, suburban excess, hootenanny hot-gospelling and sexual licentiousness in a non-stop staging of scenery on castor wheels and flying television screens.
The cut-out frames are symbolic: young teenaged Vernon has indeed been “framed” as an unwitting accessory in a high school massacre; he has a friend in Jesus (Luke Brady) who killed sixteen other kids, then blew his brains out and now haunts the action with his guitar and tuneful melancholy.
Joseph Drake makes a remarkable stage debut as Vernon, literary cousin to Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn – very different from Colin Morgan three years ago – beset on all sides by a rapacious mother (Clare Burt), a corrupt television repair man passing himself off as a hot news reporter (Peter De Jersey) and a creepy psychiatrist (Daniel Cerqueira).
And there’s a stunning double by another newcomer, Lily James, as both Vern’s pimply girlfriend and sex-bait nemesis when she tracks him south of the border down Mexico way and sets the trap in a motel bedroom. Johnnie Fiori as the mountainous Pam and purblind courtroom official, and Penny Layden as a white trash neighbour, are outstanding, too. And Nathan Osgood is blissfully goofy as the sheriff and a stream of porn addicts.
The satirical charge of this piece increases by the day, as poor old Vernon is strapped to the execution bed and bartered by the public on a television reality show; yes, folks, you can decide who dies today. And the soundtrack of his life goes from Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton to "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Amazing Grace". This show is a Young Vic classic, and no mistake, and the audience goes absolutely wild.