“Bobby’s dead and you’re still breathing. That’s a fucking walking talking tragedy that is.” Delivered during one of the play’s most intense scenes, this line does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of Haley Squire’s black comedy. Featuring the directorial debut of Poppy Harrison, EUTCo’s production of “Vera Vera Vera” is beautifully bleak, managing to find glimmers of hope and humour in the darkest of places.
It is an arresting and disturbing snapshot of a broken family and arguably, a broken Britain. Yet, as is typical of us Brits, Squire’s script always manages to find humour in the darkest of places. “Vera Vera Vera” is a black comedy that explores the impact of death and war on the people back at home. Bobby, a young soldier from Kent, has been killed in Afghanistan. Bobby’s siblings, Emily and Danny, quarrel over how heroic, or not, he really was. But while the tabloids idealise “our boys”, his brother and sister know the bitter truth about him. Likewise, his cousin Charlie, a feisty 16-year-old girl, has reacted to his death by falling silent, finding solace in best friend Sammy.
beautifully bleak, find[ing]glimmers of hope and humour in the darkest of places
This play does not attempt to impress via theatrics and stylisation. Instead, the pared down set and naturalistic setting focuses on the gritty and tragic dialogue of its cast. The play follows two intertwining stories. Set to an eerie soundtrack of Vera Lynn songs, “Vera Vera Vera” focuses on the grieving family members of Bobby, a young soldier from Kent who has been killed in Afghanistan. His siblings, Emily (Katherine Lee) and Danny (Harry Smithson) and Bobby’s best friend Lee (Tobias Cornwell) argue over just how honourable Bobby was, speaking to wider debates surrounding the glorification of soldiers and warfare. At the same time, Bobby’s cousin Charlie (Lily Nissan), responds to his death by falling silent and seeking comfort in her best friend Sammy (Harry Heap).
if EUTCo has a swear jar, “Vera Vera Vera” will be enough to fund their next three trips to the Fringe
Considering this is such a small cast, there is little room for error. Thankfully, all of the characters come off as believable, although few are likeable. Katherine Lee’s portrayal of the drug-addled and vicious Emily is worth a special mention, as she brings a subtle physicality to the role that adds an extra layer of authenticity. Nissan and Heap are the most likeable characters in the play, representing a slither of hope in a pretty bleak setting. Their naivety and shy teenage awkwardness provides plenty of laughs and is sure to remind audiences of their 15 year old selves (whether they want those particular flashbacks or not). After sitting through their hilariously cringe conversations about Vanish Oxi Action and the latest Rihanna track, the audience is rewarded with a kiss between the pair, cementing their young romance. Smithson’s portrayal of Danny is menacingly casual, if a little too laid back at points, yet a silent scene in which he huddles on a park bench adds some humanity to this flawed villain. Finally, while Cornwell is not given as much of a chance to shine, his depiction of Danny’s best friend Lee, communicates a conflicted character, trying to rectify a litany of mistakes.
A word of warning though, if EUTCo has a swear jar, “Vera Vera Vera” will be enough to fund their next three trips to the Fringe. F-bombs and C-bombs are dropped at an alarming rate and there’s plenty of talk about drugs, sex and alcohol. Coming in at just an hour in length, “Vera Vera Vera” is less of a story and more of a tableau. Providing the audience with a darkly comic snapshot of a disaffected 21st century British family, aided by moving and authentic performances from its cast, this EUTCo production ultimately highlights the negative effects of war and misguided patriotism on the working class, which is probably not the result Vera had in mind.
This viewing of EUTCo’s “Vera Vera Vera” was part of a preview, before the play is taken to Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.