'It's a play about the aftermath of a homophobic hate crime,' says director Sophie Motley, 'but it isn't an issues play'
Vincent River has a Facebook. Not the play, the dead eponymous character in the play. According to the Facebook page, he is currently ‘in a relationship’. It’s a surreal little element in a play by author Philip Ridley who usually deals in the fantastical and the apocalyptic.
River’s Facebook status announces his location too: Belfast. The Crescent Arts Centre to be precise, where the play will open on August 2. After its run there, Vincent River - a joint venture between Prime Cut Productions and Belfast Pride - will travel to Strabane, Derry and Armagh.
Sophie Motley, the 26-year old director of the play, has been a fan of Ridley’s work for years. She produced his Pitchfork Disney when she was studying drama in Trinity in Dublin and an adaptation of the introduction to his first book of plays at Trafalgar Studios in London. Vincent River is, Motley says, her Ridley ‘graduation’.
‘This is the first play of his that was real. You’ve got real people, real places and it was based on a real occurrence – when Philip was in college a friend of a friend was murdered in a similar way to Vincent.’
Vincent River is about a gay man who was murdered and the people and issues he left behind - his mother Anita, played by Eleanor Methven, and Kerr Logan's Davey: son, lover, killer, traitor? In the play River is dead long before the curtain rises, but Motley hesitates to give away too many details. In its way Vincent River is a murder mystery, albeit an alternative one. The mystery is contained in the events leading up to and after the murder, rather than in the deed itself.
Motley’s production of the play is true to the original manuscript. The setting remains Dagenham, the dialogue hasn’t been regionalized. It doesn’t need to be. Grief, as Motley points out, is a universal emotion. And so, unfortunately, is hate.
‘When I first spoke to Philip about Vincent River he was very clear that he wanted it to be produced in Belfast,’ Motley says, suddenly serious. She is referring to violent, homophobic events in the city a few years ago, but points out that things haven’t gotten any better. ‘Those two men were beaten up in Derry just recently,’ she recalls.
In one of those ‘perfect storm’ confluences of events, Motley was looking for a home for Vincent River at the same time that Prime Cut was looking for a play that would speak to the issues Gay Pride dealt with. Vincent River ‘fit perfectly’.
Originally the play was destined to be a Rehearsed Reading, but Prime Cut managed to get funding to put on a full scale production. To complement the play, Pride will also stage a series of dedicated outreach workshops for homosexual teenagers and their parents. Although Vincent River is not, Motley is at pains to point out, an ‘issues’ play. The issues in Vincent River are there to serve the play, not the other way around.
‘Some issue plays you look at and wonder “Where’s the drama?”,' Motley says, miming a confused shrug. ‘The play can’t stand alone. You have to be able to have a conversation about the play that has nothing to do with the issues.'
It’s the sort of work Motley loves: challenging and accessible at the same time. ‘It can’t be so terribly intellectual that only people who go to the theatre can understand it. But you can’t patronize your audience either. You have to trust that your audience is at least as quick witted as you are when you first read the play.’
Vincent River strikes that balance, mixing the straightforward thriller format - tease-and-reveal - with the bubbling intensity of a two person play. Maybe there are even some clues hidden in the Facebook page.
Vincent River opens at the Crescent Arts Centre on August 2 -7 and then goes to Armagh, Derry and Strabane.