Pointing a long, sharp and satirical finger at the closed-mindedness of Southern America, Vernon God Little, with its quick-witted eponymous lead, played by Oliver Henn, is hard to define in terms of genre. Originally adapted for the stage by Tanya Ronder, from DBC Pierre’s prize-winning novel of the same name, Vernon God Little can ultimately be described as a somewhat black comedy. This is because, despite all its mockery and satire, the work essentially revolves around a high-school massacre, which our hapless hero Vernon, is wrongly accused of committing. Hilarity, crudeness and a good ol’ dash of Texan swearing ensues as the yoke town of Martirio sets about persecuting this misunderstood teen.
To say that the narrative of this play is in a similar vein to the likes of Napoleon Dynamite wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, and may be easier to swallow if you imagine elements of We Need to Talk About Kevin paralleled alongside. It is a shrewd choice made by the TFTV Student Theatre Society and plays well to their strengths in terms of casting choice. The acting of the ensemble is strong throughout, and particular praise must be given to the actors’ unfaltering accents that even have recognisable nuances between the multiple characters they play. A criticism could be made that because of this, some of the characters feel a little overdone, however in my opinion, this is relatively unavoidable given the play’s sardonic nature.
Potential audiences may be unaware of the fact that this play actually incorporates elements of a musical and does so to great effect. The character of Jesus (Edward Sager), who, having carried out the high school murders and then committed suicide, appears to Vernon in the form of a guitar-bearing ghost. His presence also helps the cohesion of the play, as he acts as a pseudo ringmaster whose acoustic guitar provides a subtle score to accompany many of the songs. Tribute need also be paid to the set and projection design that are used astutely, giving a sense of depth to each scene.
Even taking into consideration the few slight mistakes, particularly a slip up in a joke about TIME magazine (which actually added to the comedy), the TFTV Student Theatre Society’s rendition of Vernon God Little is certainly one to check out. The cast appears to enjoy the show as much as the audience does, and you’ll leave with the warm-hearted message that – even if you don’t believe in religion or God – we all have the ability to show and share love and compassion with others.