Q&A with Robert Chevara, Director of Vincent River: ‘It’s a bona fide masterpiece’

Anthony Walker-Cook exchanged questions with Robert Chevara, the director of Vincent River, which opens at the Trafalgar Studios this week.

AWC What attracted you to Vincent River?
RC When I am directing, something I look for in a play is that I can connect with on an emotional level. Vincent River is nuanced and complex. Phil Ridley’s work is challenging and transformative. It also has a particular quality which is very British. It could read like a TV play, but the whole thing is extraordinarily heightened. I am attracted to work like Tennessee Williams or Ridley, where the writing is often Baroque and slightly Gothic. Reading it the first time through in one go, I was sure I had to direct it and could bring an energy and kinetic quality to the play. It’s a bona fide masterpiece and it was the easiest choice to say yes.

Why is Vincent River an important piece of theatre?
Although the play was written almost 20 years ago, it was so prescient, visionary almost. Sadly it’s even more relevant and timely now. Hate crime over the last few years has soared. Hate crime against LBGT+ people has gone up by 78% in the last 5 years. The play isn’t a piece of agitprop though. It’s a cry for tolerance and a scream in the darkness for the voice of “the other”, whoever and whatever that is.

How involved has Philip Ridley been in this production?
Phil is a unique artist and been involved at every stage in this production. He’s given me suggestions, tweaked the show a little and offered practical advice.

Has Vincent River changed as you have gone into different venues?
Yes, it has changed and evolved in the transfer from The Park to Trafalgar Studios. We have all had a year to think about the play and the space is so different that it yields different ways to look at and direct it, the actor’s nuance and how I have shaped the play itself.  

For this production at Trafalgar Studios, what have you realised about the play?
The character of Vincent permeates the piece. He’s almost tangible. Although the play is about the most horrific crime imaginable and it’s aftermath on young boy who is haunted by the image of the dead Vincent and Vincent’s grieving Mother, I have realised there is so much dark humour in the piece. We’ve discovered even more of it than at The Park. The message in universal and alludes back to Greek tragedy. It plays out in real time and in one location. 

If you had to summarise the play in one word, what would it be?
Extraordinary.

If Vincent River is posing one question to audiences, what is it (and what is the answer)?
What would you do in the same situation? Would you try and intervene in a murder/assault? Would you run or ignore…

What show (ever!) do you wish you could see? (The ‘who would you invite from history to a dinner party’ version for theatre).
I wish I had seen Peter Brook’s production of “King Lear” onstage with Paul Scofield, Irene Worth and Diana Rigg as Cordelia! If I could create anything and I could Lazarus a few of the company, I would put Sarah Miles, the young Vanessa Redgrave, John Gielgud, Ben Whishaw, Margaret Leighton, Olivia Coleman, Greta Garbo and Bette Davis into The Cherry Orchard. They’d all have to alternate roles!

Why should audiences come to Vincent River and what would you like them to take away from the work?
They will be moved, laugh a lot and be dazzled by the great performances and masterful, spellbinding storytelling in Vincent River. Hopefully it will be unlike anything you have experienced before.

Vincent River is at the Trafalgar Studios until 22nd June.

Photograph credit: Scott Rylander.


Anthony Walker-Cook is a PhD candidate at UCL and is the Theatre editor for London Student. His interests include theatre adaptation, early modern drama, classical myths made modern and all things eighteenth century. For more information please contact: anthony.walker-cook.17@ucl.ac.uk @AntWalker_Cook

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