Have you ever wondered how intense a mother’s love can be? Vincent River is a oneact stage play for adults written by Philip Ridley. Having been premiered at the Hampstead Theatre in London in 2000, the play is currently being performed in Korea. This play concentrates on the mother’s love, grief, and agony after her son’s suspicious death and her reaction after facing the truth of her son’s sexual preference. The setting of the play is based on eastern England. Ridley wrote the play in the 90s following homophobia, which was widespread in the UK, but the issues remain controversial to this day.
The play Vincent River develops as two characters, Anita and Davey, unravel the clues to the mysterious murder of Anita’s son, Vincent. On a snowy winter night with Christmas carols, Vincent dies in an incident of gang violence. Without time to grieve over her son’s death, Anita was pointed at by villagers for being a mother of a homosexual. To avoid such hatred and criticism, she moves into another house with the least amount of luggage. Though she moved, a young man is continuously seen near her house. The young man who has been hovering around her for three months was Davey.
On Easter Day, Anita calls out to Davey to let him into her house. Even with doubts and questions, in an atmosphere of vigilance, the two slowly move closer since they have a common point of being deeply related to Vincent. Eventually, the truth of Vincent’s death pours out. However, the only witness to the incident, 17-year-old Davey, initially refuses to tell the truth. In the beginning, he states that he first discovered Vincent’s corpse in the bathroom on the night of the incident while taking a shortcut to bring his girlfriend to her house after their engagement ceremony.
However, Anita is sure that Davey knows something. On that account, she asks Davey why the report was made by his girlfriend even though he found it first. Crucially, Anita finds loopholes in his explanation, revealing that the path Davey says was not an actual shortcut. Davey, who wants to know as much as possible about Vincent from Anita, accepts a proposal to exchange information with her after quarreling. She strikes a deal with him that she would let him know everything he was curious about Vincent. In exchange, she asks him to honestly describe the truth about her son’s untimely death. He takes up her offer, hoping that he would be able to forget the terrible memory if he learned more about Vincent.
The story of Vincent is told in a strong and poignant style, with the use of coarse language. Accordingly, Davey looks at Vincent’s childhood photos and listens to stories of him from Anita. According to her, he often sat in front of the computer and played through the night. Besides, he had loved art since he was young so much that he would stare at something artistic for hours and forget his mother’s request. After Davey sniffs in Vincent’s shirt, he screams and cries, then takes sedatives. His longing for Vincent drives him mad for a moment.
In addition, Anita also tells him her personal story. As Anita pulls out her luggage, she talks about the cup her mother loved so much. She then retraces the time when she broke the cup in rebellion as a teenager, after when her parents discovered the relationship between her and a married man. Then she soon became pregnant and had a baby named “Vincent”. The two drink a bottle of gin as she tells the truthful story. During the performance, they smoke, use abusive language, and roll on the floor.
Now, it is Davey’s turn to speak out. He confesses that he was with Vincent on the day of the incident, not Rachel. Rachel was just his fiancé in disguise to please his sick mother. Davey’s true love was Vincent. He used to call him Vince, as an affectionate nickname. When Anita went to the hospital with Vincent because of her ankle, Davey first encountered Vincent and fell in love with him. Before the incident, he went out with Davey and had sex in an outdoor bathroom. After that, Davey got out first, and the drunken lads saw Vincent. When they found out that he was gay, they ganged up on him and brutally killed him.
Meanwhile, Davey could not do anything but just wait; besides, he could hardly stand up because he was drunk. He realized that it was a serious situation only after he had heard sounds of breaking and crashing, but he thought he could not do anything for Vincent, so he had covered his ears with his fingers and remained still. Afterward, he went back to the scene of the crime, where only Vincent’s bloody corpse was lying on the ground. Scared and not knowing how to deal with this situation, he ran away believing someone would report. However, because the police did not come until the next day, he went back with his girlfriend and made her report it.
Anita, who thought she knew everything about her son, is deeply affected by the unexpected news. It has left her with mixed sentiments – fear, anger, and compassion – toward her beloved dead son. For that reason, she throws her mother’s cherished cup and breaks it. Until she heard the whole story, she had repeatedly denied that her son was gay. However, Vincent was truly murdered because of mob violence caused by homophobia. Anita faces the despair of losing her beloved son and the fact about his sexual orientation he was trying to hide.
The two-hour play, led by a mother who was ignorant of her son and a young man who was the only witness to the death, slowly boils up and ends in silence, punching the audience in the gut with its raw and emotional dialogue. The silence at the end of the play becomes a task for the audience to solve in the actual world outside the theater. At the same time, it gives the audience a chance to think about the life of Vincent. The story of him overall evokes the fright of living behind a lie and the need to search for the truth.
Besides the entertaining storyline, the stage setting and the two actors’ gripping acting are quite remarkable. A simple stage only with the least things set in a big empty room gives a minimalistic intensity and promotes the themes and ideas which Davey desired to prioritize in the play. The sound effects used in the play give it more color: the sound of a breaking cup, a train passing by, etc. Vivid descriptions of events help bring the subtle aspects of Vincent River to life.
Anita, the bereaved mother costumed in a mauve dress and high heeled shoes, plays a role with a strong voice and consistent performance. From the start of the play, she chain-smokes cigarettes. Even though she is grief-stricken and out of her mind, she captivates the audience with her amazing charisma. The fact that Vincent has been having an affair with the young stranger – Davey – comes as a shock to Anita. On the other hand, Davey portrays a complex teenager with issues. While his initial entry and performance were low-key and half-hearted, his characterization shows more momentum and intensity by degrees as he is pressured by Anita.
At the same time, Davey wants to feel the memories of Vincent from Anita. He forces Anita to call him Davey, which is a hypocoristic name of David. His emotions intensify as he describes his love affair with Vincent and eventually kisses Anita. While the two share the same feelings, they simultaneously antagonize each other. Davey accuses Anita of smothering her son while he was alive. He blames her by saying, “Under your thumb, that is where you wanted him.” When Davey makes a monologue in the second half, Anita’s eyes leave a great lingering impression. Although his death is fully explained, the ending leaves a heavy and uncomfortable feeling.
T h e p l a y r a i s e s t h e i s s u e o f homophobia and hate crimes prevalent in our society. It shows people who had to hide even though they were victims of crime, because of the public ’s discriminatory view of homosexuals. Likewise, the biggest source of trouble and agony in our time is hatred. It makes us think about the desirable attitude of living in the world.
Place: Chungmu Art Center Middle Theater Black