Hayley Squire’s début play is a short, snappy two-stranded affair about a funeral, and a fight. Tied together by the crackling strains of Vera Lynn’s war-time songs, these two parallel stories explore the themes of aggression and attack; truth and fabrication.
The 23-year-old writer’s focus is the death of a young soldier, Bobby, from Kent, shot while fighting in Afghanistan. On the day of the funeral, TV crews threaten (or promise) to make Bobby a hero, but behind closed doors, his siblings and his best friend argue bitterly about the reality of his life. For his venomous drug-dealer brother Danny, Bobby was a wimp; his sister Emily admits he was “useless” and “thick”; to his best friend Lee, Bobby was “beautiful”, but even his more measured assessment reveals further truths: Bobby’s joining the army was surely an attempt to escape the drug-taking and bullying going on at home. “We aren’t good people, Lee, we’re shit,” sums up Emily. These scenes are certainly hard to watch: simmering tension, nasty language and nauseating characters creating the worst sense of voyeurism.
Squire’s writing is stronger in the other strand, a teenage romance played out over three scenes between Bobby’s 16-year-old cousin Charlie and her friend Sammy. Sammy’s preparing for a fight; if in earlier scenes Emily didn’t know what Bobby was fighting for in Afghanistan, here Sammy’s conviction is simple: someone’s been spreading lies about Charlie, and he’ll throw punches to prove them wrong. There’s a lovely moment when Sam explains the plot of Romeo and Juliet to the confused Charlie; (“I’ve seen the film, anyway”), and it comes across as a tale of modern gang warfare. Under Jo McInnes’ fine direction, actors Ted Riley and Abby Rakic-Platt perfectly capture the mix of adolescent verbal bravado and physical shyness; their scenes are both touching and tender.
There are times when the writing is a little forced: Danny’s racism seemed to hammer home a point already made; the final conclusion made by both groups that “cuddles” would solve these conflicts struck us as both unlikely and idiomatically adrift (don’t people say “hug” now?).
Nevertheless, for an entertaining hour of fantastic acting, with some haunting imagery, and a sparkling portrayal of the modern teenage psyche, Vera Vera Vera is a really interesting production.
Vera Vera Vera plays at Theatre Local, Bussey Building, 133 Rye Lane, London SE15 4ST until 28 July. Tickets are £10 / £8 in advance, or pay whay you like on the door. At least 30 on the door tickets are available for each performance. Visit www.royalcourttheatre.com/season/theatre-local-peckham-2012 to find out more.