Hayley Squires’s debut play Vera Vera Vera, part of the Royal Court’s Young Writers Festival, is about the grief and hope that arises when a young solider, Bobby, is shot whilst fighting for his country.
On the day of his funeral, Bobby’s siblings Emily (Danielle Fleet) and Danny (Tommy McDonnell) fight furiously over how their brother should be remembered. With anecdotes about drugs and racial hatred, it is the pent up anger of Danny that spills across the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs stage. Emily claws at her brother with her words and manicured nails, never making him bleed but trying nonetheless. It is Bobby’s oldest and closest friend Lee (Daniel Kendrick) who keeps the atmosphere from igniting, pleading that it’s not what Bobby would have wanted. Three months later and we see Bobby’s cousin Charlie (Abby Rakic-Platt) haphazardly flirting with her classmate Sammy (Ted Riley) after he fights another guy who has been insulting Charlie. Vera Vera Vera switches between these two moments, making Squires’s debut a curious treat for audiences who will laugh at the childishness of first flirtations, and have their heart dampened by lost life so young.
Whilst Vera Vera Vera isn’t disappointing for a play that manages to condense the complex emotions of someone lost at war, it doesn’t quite ignite either. The relationship between Charlie and Sammy brings about a much more stirring sense of emotions in the outstanding acting from Rakic-Platt and Riley. You can’t help but fall for their clumsy and tormented look at the world and themselves. Squires captures these heartfelt moments with precision and wit, with many a laugh-out-loud moment from some excellent directing by Jo McInnes. Yet the scenes between Emily, Danny and Lee don’t so much stir emotions as they offer the audience a brutal and blunt look at how relationships can be strained when someone young is killed. The characters feel trapped and too claustrophobic to really make them fly, and whilst there is some particularly detailed acting from Fleet and McDonnell, it’s hard to really tap into the characters.
Instead we observe them from afar, with the cold washes of Stephen Andrews’s lighting design leaving little life to be found. It’s a shame because it makes for a slightly bottom-heavy production, which doesn’t have the room to really break open the desired intentions from Squires’s writing. This is partly down to the length: 60 minutes seems too short to really get your teeth into the characters, and whilst there are heartening moments of tenderness it doesn’t inspire anything internally.
As a debut play, Vera Vera Vera is promising for Squires as a writer, and there is a certain keenness to see what she can deliver in the future, yet the real stars are the cast, especially Rakic-Platt and Riley. Their scenes of foolish tenderness captured a picture-perfect postcard of how hope can be found in the grief and torment of loss. Tender, charming and smile-inducing, Vera Vera Vera has a subtle technique for delivering its message to the audience.
Vera Vera Vera is playing at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre until 14th April. For more information and tickets see the Royal Court Website. Don’t forget that the Royal Court’s Young Writers Festival continues until 14th April.