The latest in an illustrious line-up of dark literary adaptations at the Citizens Theatre is the world premiere of Andrea Hart's stylish stage version of D B C Pierre's 2003 Booker prize-winning Vernon God Little, the final instalment in an experimental five-week ensemble season.
When the Texan teenager Jesus takes out 16 classmates in a killing-spree at Martirio High, all fingers point to the 15-year-old Vernon Gregory Little. Scapegoat Vernon wasn't there, but he can't prove it - or, at least, he can, but it's kind of embarrassing.
Lustily delving into his pants at the mention of his dream-girl Taylor, Vernon, a modern-day teen innocent, knows where to find a gun and how best to dispose of an acid tab in an emergency. It doesn't matter that he's a softie who looks out for his self-obsessed mum. Vernon is always "last seen" where something bad happened.
Kenny Miller's production takes pick'n'mix Deep South stereotyping and stuffs it into one bulging sweetie bag. It works only because it goes too far. This is white-trash Hicksville, the heartland of "dumber than you" police officers in "POLICE" T-shirts. In a world where everyone's got a gun, you need some way of working out who's got the final shot.
In cahoots with the ravenous media, the police are gluttons with hickory hot sauce running down their chins. Even the judge is got up Ku-Klux-Klan style. With a bit of state-sanctioned killing thrown in and a Big Brother Death Row TV show (if you win, you die), DBC Pierre is poking his pointy stick at a larger target than Texan small-town values. But whether this production hits that target is another matter.
There's a clever, almost cartoonish set, with pink dinosaurs pinned upside down to the ceiling, choked with twinkling fairy lights and teddy bears bound with ribbon to wooden crosses. "I went to Martirio and all I got was this lousy exit wound," blares a T-shirt as media frenzy drives the ghoul dollar through the roof of the BBQ shack.
Miller, director and designer, has his own OTT style, a sort of carnival catastrophe of bodily fluids and barbecue sauce. It's all a bit makeshift, deliberately so, but very slick. The problem is, we never know who is really talking. Vernon (sensitively played by Pete Ashmore) may be spouting a lot of words, but he can't hold it together in a production that doesn't resolve the credibility problems of the more outlandish aspects of the novel.
In this adaptation, Vernon's mother isn't so much dippy as completely off the wall, praying for her "side by side" fridge and caring more about the slimy repair-man turned media mogul Eulalio Ledesma than her own son. Being romanced by a TV god is more attractive than having to face up to the darkness of your only child being a Columbinesque killer.
If you haven't read Pierre's novel, you'll be mighty stuck about what's going on in this Deep South odyssey, let alone where it's going on: a few accents wander randomly from continent to continent, with a rather obfuscatory effect on Pierre's juiced-up, heavily imaged language. In this blasting succession of dream-like sequences, it is sometimes hard to keep the thread.
And when it comes to "who shot who?", if you're a Vernon virgin, it may well be a mystery deeper than that of Little's strange bowel affliction. But you'll probably enjoy the journey.
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