The deep pleasure that I derived from Rebecca McCutcheon's excellent revival of Vincent River, the taut two-hander by Philip Ridley about the emotional fall-out from a fatal bout of gay-bashing, was tinged with a certain shame that I had underrated this piece when it was premiered at Hampstead in 2000.
True, my review was predominantly positive but I accused the play of sacrificing plausibility for the sake of engineering forced symmetries in the tense, developing relationship between the couple at the centre. This new staging – with Lynda Bellingham and Mark Field both turning in unimpeachably believable performances – makes those earlier misgivings look beside the point.
A 35-year-old gay man beaten to death in a remote gay loo on a snowy winter's night is the offstage figure who draws together this middle-aged woman, Anita, and Davey, a 17-year-old youth in the cruddy, unpacked flat to which she has been hounded by unsympathetic neighbours.
The departed was her son whom she loved but whose homosexuality she had, until now, resisted recognising. The boy, it gradually emerges, was his lover. It's now eight weeks after the atrocity and she initially thinks that Davey, who has been shadowing her, has come to confess to the crime. But it's a more complex guilt that painfully comes to light as she artfully picks holes in his story.
Bellingham is terrific, presenting Anita as feisty, sexy woman whose hard-bitten manner is just about managing to hold back molten grief and self-recrimination. Field, too, is extremely fine. The flashbacks, as conducted by him, never feel lurid or gratuitous.
I have one quibble – and it's on aesthetic rather than moral grounds. Ridley seems over-anxious to underline that Davey, emotionally blackmailed into pretence by his own cancer-stricken mother, was sexually initiated by other men and only began a relationship with the deceased when he was over the age of consent. The speeches that establish this feel dutiful. What if he'd been 15 at the time? Would it make any big difference to our welcome for the piece?
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