Review by Matthew Chorlton – creator of The Fiction Stroker web site
All photography by Laura Evans
After the successful adaptation of The Ballad of Halo Jones by Manchester-based Scytheplays back in 2012, the Lass O’Gowrie, famous for their Fringe productions of Russell T. Davies’ Midnight, Year of the Sex Olmypics and Coronation Street together with Scytheplays are tackling another of Alan Moore’s seminal works: V for Vendetta.
A timeless tale of anarchy against the system, V for Vendetta has endured ever since its first appearance back in 1982 in Warrior magazine. Popularised by the use of the iconic Guy Fawkes mask by protesters, especially since the 2006 film, V for Vendetta has entered popular culture in a way few things have managed.
The Hunger Games spearheaded a resurgence in popularity of dystopian stories – or perhaps that fascination has never gone away. The thirst for stories of struggle against tyranny, or the rights of the individual has always been there. Written at the height of dissatisfaction with Thatcher’s government and with the threat of nuclear war lurking in the background, V for Vendetta potentially becomes a very real flash-forward, yet has endured and remained relevant ever since.
Set in a dark future society where racial and political “deviants” are arrested and held without charge or trial in internment camps, V for Vendetta is a glimpse into one man’s idea to fight the system, and the subsequent lengths this idea will go to fight for freedom. The stage adaptation is largely successful, the staging area evocatively decked out as V’s Shadow Gallery. With a smaller cast of characters than the comic, some of the treatment of citizens in this world has faded, but the central core of V’s fight against the state burns more intensely than ever.
Part detective story, part thriller, part noir. V for Vendetta offers a multitude of narratives to its readers/viewers. Sean Mason’s stage adaptation is pacy, retaining much of the flavour and content of the comic. Having wisely disposed of many of the action sequences allows for the text to breathe and for the audience to concentrate on the words and the messages within Moore’s text.
Daniel Thackeray’s V not only has height in his favour, but a majestic stage presence. Despite the restrictions imposed by the mask, Thackeray owns the stage with his commanding performance. The gestures he makes to emphasise key words act as much as his voice, which wavers from hysterically manic to chilling in the space of a few words. Thackeray retains the ambiguity over V’s status as hero or villain that made V for Vendetta so compelling.
Heroine Evey Hammond (Sinead Parker) undergoes a total transformation as V unfolds. Parker is an astonishingly watchable actress and exudes confidence in herself and Evey. She becomes completely enveloped and wholeheartedly believable as this well-defined character. Cast out from V’s lair, her dramatic connection with Paida Noel’s subtle and haunting Valerie is a breathtakingly shocking sequence.
Watching the quartet of New Scotland Yard cops on the case is almost like watching a surreal episode of The Thick of It, such is the machinations and bungling occurring within. Eric Finch’s attempt to understand V is his undoing, and Marlon Solmon’s sympathetic and masterful performance conveys Finch’s futility nicely.
If Daniel Blake’s Almond is the Tony Blair figure of the lot, exuding confidence and a very public face, then Brian Gorman’s Creedy is very much a figure in the Gordon Brown mould. An unrespected and petty man, Creedy’s letching over Leni Murphy’s pitiful Rosemary is chilling to watch. Meanwhile, young Dominic Stone, played with relish by Michael Whittaker undergoes his own desperate journey. The Yard counterpart to Evey, he has a naïve streak that makes the audience root for him.
A dark disturbing look at a world in an unspecified near future, V for Vendetta is scarily near to the knuckle. Of the oppressors who shape V, only Carly Tarett’s Delia Sutcliffe is (borderline) sympathetic, and she provides one of the best scenes in the play with a stylish and emotive exit. Both Jez Smith’s Prothero and Stuart Hudson’s Lilliman are thoroughly unlikeable, and in Lilliman’s case compellingly hideous. Weighed up against V’s dubious politics, it’s up to you to decide who’s methods are right.
Whilst V for Vendetta is an accomplished play with a clear amount of work and effort gone into it, transitions between scenes could be a little smoother to allow the overall experience to flow better. The loss of a couple of the iconic images from the comic book is a necessity, but a shame. A lack of clarity to visualise the Houses of Parliament bursting into flames, or the fireworks this creates seemed to be lost on some of the audience watching. This said, V for Vendetta remains immensely watchable, and ruthlessly engaging, and is yet another triumph of the Fringe.
V for Vendetta runs at the Lass O’Gowrie, Charles Street, Manchester until Thursday 10th January with an additional performance on Sunday 13th January. It will return on Sunday 27 January in a double-bill with The Ballad of Halo Jones.
Tickets available from WeGotTickets or the Lass bar. More details at the Lass O’Gowrie site.