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We need to talk about Norwich staging of Vernon Little God

PUBLISHED: 10:19 26 March 2012

Joe Darbyshire during rehearsals for Vernon Little God

Joe Darbyshire during rehearsals for Vernon Little God

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The latest production from the Theatre Royal Youth Company is Vernon God Little, a dark comedy based on DBC Pierre's Booker prize winning novel. SIMON PARKIN reports.

When it first appeared in 2007 Tanya Ronder’s stage adaptation of DBC Pierre’s Booker prize-winning novel Vernon Little God was somewhat overshadowed by a shooting on a Virginia campus which eerily echoed the book’s high-school massacre.

It’s side-splitting but dark play which shows the media and public hunger to follow the story of a tragic death and , thankfully now free from its tragic tropicality, its is the latest production from the Norwich Theatre Royal Youth Company.

Set in Texas, it follows the story of Vernon who is the only survivor of a classroom shotgun massacre by his best friend. He is wrongly accused of being an accessory to the multiple deaths and ends up going on the run.

Everyone tries to cash in on his supposed guilt from fame hungry imposters to desperate middle aged women and yet the further Vernon runs, the more he is assumed to be a serial killer.

Eventually he winds up on Death Row and becomes a must-see media figure as TV stations invite viewers to vote on whether he - or other murderers - should be executed in the ultimate life-or-death reality programme. The stage adaptation is in many ways a chilling play, but one that echoes the youthful isolation of JD Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. It shines light on the danger of assumption as well as showing the part the media plays on the path of justice.

The production features students from the Norwich Theatre Royal Arts Courses, which give young people a grounding in stage craft and has prepared many to go on to careers in the theatre, TV and in films.

Among the cast is Joe Darbyshire, who plays Vernon, and Beth Gregory (see panels).

John Bultitude, of Norwich Theatre Royal, said: “Vernon God Little is an edgy, modern play which gives the Youth Theatre Company students an opportunity to stretch their acting abilities”.

■ Vernon God Little, The Garage, Chapelfield North, Norwich, March 29-31, £8 (£6.50 cons), 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

CAST Q&A

JOE DARBYSHIRE (VERNON)

Tell us a bit about your character

Well he is basically a 15-year-old who grew up in a small Texan town with his mother who is very possessive and quite clingy which can cause him a bit of difficulty. He basically has one close friend who is Mexican which is also quite frowned on in Texas. His friend basically slaughters everyone in his school including himself and Vernon is left to pick up all the pieces. This then starts to drag him down and it is about how he gets out of it.

How do you get into the head of a character like that?

It is certainly not without its difficulties. There is a point when you start to hit a wall and you find it hard to progress and you have to keep on trying and trying and trying. Eventually you find a place inside you that can help with this characterisation.

The play also combines comedy and drama doesn’t it?

Well it is certainly a black comedy in the sense it is a tragedy with some humour within it – and some of that is very astute humour. It can be very sharp and witty as well as being heavy and dark.

Are you enjoying playing Vernon?

I absolutely love the part. It’s such a challenge and I love a challenge. I also love the character because, underneath everything, you just know he is actually a good person.

BETH GREGORY (MOM)

Tell me a bit about your character.

Well, I play Vernon’s mother. She’s not a very altogether lady. We first see her when we find out that Vernon is accused of murder. She is a bit hysterical and she is making joy cakes for everyone because she can’t think of anything else to do. Her journey isn’t a very happy one. We see her go into a downward spiral and we just see her fall to pieces.

This sounds like a challenging part

Yes, she ends up having a bit of a breakdown in the middle of the play. It is very very challenging but it is also my favourite bit of the whole play. It requires a lot of energy and you end up having to live in the moment. I get to hit my co-star Joe, who plays Vernon, as well which is quite fun. It is nice to play someone a bit nasty and she is quite manipulative as well.

The entire play is quite challenging isn’t it?

Yes it is. It is quite a long play and it is quite complicated. There are a lot of props that need to be moved and things like that. In all senses of the word, it is challenging but obviously, that is great for me as an actor. It is always great to be pushed and it is such a fantastic play. We are really, really enjoying putting it on.

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