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Review Round-up: Vernon Returns to Young Vic

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Rufus Norris’ acclaimed 2007 production of Vernon God Little, adapted by Tanya Ronder from DBC Pierre’s Booker Prize-winning novel, has returned to the Young Vic as part of the venue’s 40th anniversary season.

In the original production, Colin Morgan (who has since gone on to star in the TV series Merlin) took the title role as a young man who is held in the sheriff’s office after his best friend has committed a school massacre.

This time around, newcomer Joseph Drake makes his professional debut as the hapless Vernon. The cast also includes: Luke Brady, Clare Burt, Daniel Cerqueira, Peter De Jersey, Johnnie Fiori, Lily James, Penny Layden, Nathan Osgood and Duncan Wisbey.

Vernon God Little, which opened on Monday (7 February 2011, previews from 27 January) continues until 5 March.

Michael Coveney

"Rufus Norris’ 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 … Joseph Drake makes a remarkable stage debut as Vernon … very different from Colin Morgan three years ago … 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 … This show is a Young Vic classic, and no mistake, and the audience goes absolutely wild.”

Libby Purves
The Times

“The surest thing about Tanya Ronder’s revived and freshened rendering of DBC Pierre’s black satire is its young star: Joseph Drake, fresh from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre school. His professional debut is a marvel … Rufus Norris’s production is a roaring, rattling tale, unnerving for anyone unused to the novel … The scenes in which he is serially exploited by television, his dim hopeless mother, various stupid law officers and a perverted psychiatrist are hard to stomach. Yet Ronder’s adaptation is laced, beautifully and appropriately, with the sweet melancholy of country songs crooned or murmured and resonant with meaning … I did not laugh as much as some: I felt chilled by the mean streak, the cruel relish of Pierre’s vision. But it’s a hell of a production. I was touched, engrossed and admiring, and it won’t leave me for quite a while.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Rufus Norris' production is cartoonish and profane. It's a zestful take on small-town corruption - as if Beavis and Butt-Head had rewritten William Faulkner. Ian MacNeil has conceived a suitably economical yet audacious design, in which everything seems to be on wheels. The result is playful and clever, yet veers towards chaos … The performances are energetic, albeit bordering on caricature. The cast launch into folksy routines, including wilfully awful musical numbers and even line dancing … Noisy and far from subtle, the production is often thrillingly funny. But it's bitty, too; a scene of merciless brilliance can mutate into a clumsy tableau … In any case, Vernon God Little needs more emotional substance and an authentic humanity at its centre. Instead it frequently feels like a circus - a collection of stunts and gags, performed with admirable vigour, but too broad and blunt.”

Dominic Cavendish
Daily Telegraph

"The adaptor, Tayna Ronder, dispenses with Pierre’s God-is-in-the-detail style and instead propels us, using its most readily comprehensible dialogue, through the essential Kafka-esque episodes … Although the show feels a shade too long, it’s no struggle to keep watching, thanks to the bravura energy of the quick-changing company and the hypnotic qualities of youthful vulnerability, inexperience and sly defiance that newcomer Luke Brady brings to the role of the hapless Vernon. For all its satire on American dysfunction, this is a simple story about a boy whose mother is too distracted by her own materialist greed and sexual needs to care about him. And that message, even come the uproarious, line-dancing curtain-call, stings.”

Michael Billington

"When it first appeared in 2007 Tanya Ronder's adaptation of DBC Pierre's prize-winning novel was somewhat overshadowed by a shooting on a Virginia campus which eerily echoed the book's high-school massacre. But, freed from that fortuitous topicality, it is now possible to see the play as a bracing satire which blends the youthful isolation of JD Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye with the comic grotesquerie of Terry Southern's The Magic Christian … The show moves along at breakneck speed thanks to Rufus Norris' production and the swift transformations of Ian MacNeil's design: sofas and supermarket trolleys turn into police cars, a metal frame becomes a TV screen and a gauzy nightclub curtain evokes a courtroom … At times the show's satire is as broad as it's long. But behind the whirling humour lies a belief that, even if we can't believe in God, we should all try a little tenderness in our dealings with others.”


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