THEATRE REVIEW Vernon God Little
It's always tricky to watch a stage adaptation of a book you love. Almost inevitably the play fails to match up to the original and you spend the rest of the evening gloomily picking over its shortcomings. When Vernon God Little won the Booker Prize in 2003 it spawned headlines such as "Reformed cocaine addict is £50,000 Booker winner" and "Repentant rogue wins over Booker judges". The repentant rogue, DBC Pierre (real name Peter Finlay), turned out to he a gambler and compulsive liar who duped tens of thousands of pounds out of his friends (though he did promise to use the prize winnings to pay them back). It is also clear from the novel, which is meant to be slightly autobiographical, that DBC Pierre has a bit of a victim complex. The hero is Vernon Gregory Little, a 15-year-old boy hauled into the police station for questioning after his best friend shoots all his classmates dead. During the course of the novel he is betrayed by pretty much everyone, and is eventually put on trial for the murders himself. The stage version at the Young Vic shows just how gripping and wellconstructed and silly Vernon God Little's plot is. Director Rufus Norris and writer Tanya Ronder remould the novel into a pacy and action-packed comic romp. But in doing so they scoop out all the beauty and soul of the original text. The novel generates huge sympathy for its protagonist. Vernon is surrounded by characters who are greedy, self-serving and callous; not only does he have to come to terms with the tragedy of the killings, he has to do it completely on his own; there is no one to help him. He is, also, the only character who seems to have any compassion, in spite of all the times he has been betrayed. In the stage version the tragedy of his predicament is completely lost. The mood of the play squeezes out anything that might resemble pathos and the moments which are supposed to be poignant — such as when he comforts his mother — are never particularly sincere. The fault does not lie with the actor, Colin Morgan, who is not yet out of drama school and who. turns Vernon into an endearingly sulky and vulnerable teenager. Despite its weaknesses Ronder's adaptation does retain the sharpness of the novel's satire. It exposes the gruesome way in which a highschooI massacre is exploited for commercial gain, with T-shirts that say "I went to Martirio and all I got was this lousy exit wound", and with characters scheming to advance their careers in the media. The grotesquely consumerist town of Martirio is convincingly recreated onstage, with Vernon's mother, for instance, showing more love for her new refrigerator than for her son. Texans' obsession with fast food is also a subject for mockery: one character has a family feast of Bar-B. Chew Barn chicken for his "last supper" on Death Row. Less successful is Vernon's sojourn into Mexico, which is played mainly as a dumb show and is bereft of any drama or interest. In the novel OBC Pierre mixes poetry into the vernacular of a 15-year-old Texan boy. Most of this poetry is understandably lost in the stage adaptation; instead each character speaks with a comedy Texan lilt. This means that for two and a half hours the audience is pummelled with a variety of gruesomely strangulated accents. For a grumpy fan of the novel it is almost a form of torture. The performances are all excellent: the actors race around the stage with a tremendous amount of comic exuberance. But they cannot save a script which is only funny in patches. The perfunctory ending serves to remind the audience that they never actually cared what was going to happen.