Altona City Theatre
CLOC Musical Theatre
Executive Producer, Michael Cassel
Vernon God Little
Ever wondered what the cast of Love Never Dies does in their spare time? Rehearse a play with music of course! The ensemble from Love Never Dies, under the direction of Gavin Mitford, have spent every spare moment of lunchtimes, days and mornings off preparing for what was originally intended as a moved reading of Vernon God Little by the Australian author DBC Pierre. The cast decided to move it up from a reading to a "books down" performance, and also stepped in to all the production roles as well. Guy Simpson arranged the music for the piece, an innovative set was designed and constructed and all came together at the Capitol Theatre Studio resulting in last nights surprisingly polished presentation of this dark comedy.
The stage adaption of DBC Pierres Booker prize winning novel, was first performed at the Young Vic, London. Vernon Little is fifteen years old and lives with his mother in Martirio, a flea bitten Texan town, during the George W. Bush era. His best friend, an outcast Mexican student named Jesus, has just massacred sixteen of their classmates before killing himself. The town wants vengeance and turns its sights on Vernon, who is arrested at the start of the story. The story revolves around the victimised Vernon: a hapless, naive and unreliable teenager wrongly accused of being accessory to a schoolroom murder in mid-Texas. What follows is a portrait of the youthful hero as scapegoat. Everyone tries to get in on Vernon's supposed guilt, from the townsfolk who stage a hoedown in honour of the dead (a highlight that involved the entire cast) to a rapacious TV repair man Eulalio Ledesma (Lally), played with great menace by Matt McFarlane, who poses as an on-the-spot reporter. The further Vernon runs, the more he is assumed to be a serial killer But, in the process, we are offered a bitingly funny account of the commercialisation of horror, which culminates in a Death Row Reality TV show where the public get to vote an inmate directly onto the Chair.
I admit I was skeptical when I entered the small space and wondered how they were to do justice to this moving and bracing satire. As soon as the lights went up I knew I was going to enjoy this piece. The set design was simple yet workable and included sofas turning into cars that were moved with their feet Flintstone-style and a high moveable platform that ferried in the fabulous Emma Hawkins as the Judge. Every cast member was captivating in their numerous roles and managed to, just, avoid crossing in to caricature. Kathryn Sgroi was endearing as Pam, Mrs Littles' (Erin Hasan) fast food obssessed, always upbeat best friend. The Mexican Pelayo (Tod Strike) and his Bartender friend (Andrew Broadbent) were sidesplittingly funny and Ellen Simpson was outstanding in her portrayal of Ella Keeter, the seemingly simple girl who is Vernon's one true friend. Matt McFarlane was charmingly evil in his darkly comedic portrayal as the wannabe TV reporter Lally who hovers between a comforting father-figure and a sadistic villain with all the charm of a rattlesnake. Erin Hasan was delightfully frustrating as Vernon's mom, self-centred, sexually frustrated and endlessly awaiting the delivery of a new refrigerator, seeming to exist only to twist an emotional knife in Vernon's back. The performance of the night however was Matt Holly in the title role of Vernon Little, the naive and cynical hero of the piece whose cynicism and smart-ass "learnings" give way to a poignant curiosity about the meaning of life. Matt had us in the palm of his hand as we followed his foul mouthed cynical Vernon on this nightmare journey to death row, accused of being a serial killer. Matt handled the role with agility and dexterity manipulating his audience to feel frustration, fear and love for this misunderstood teen. In Matt's hands Vernon became a fully human, profoundly sympathetic character with a new understanding of "the meaning of life". Director Gavin Mitford should be eminently pleased with this enthralling workshop performance.