Vernon God Little

February 6th, 2010 at 4:08 pm by David Farrar

Vernon God Little was the first play at Downstage that I didn’t really enjoy. There were parts of it that certainly were very funny and had me laughing, but not enough.

The play had 21 cast playing over 50 roles, and focuses on Vernon whose best friends kills 16 bullies at his school, and them himself. The media turn Vernon into a scapegoat, and he flees to escape a possible death penalty as an accomplice.

Most of my issues are with the plot itself (taken from the book), rather than the production. In fact some of the youthful cast from the Long Cloud Youth Theatre did an excellent job in playing their characters, and I would happily see more of their productions in future.

The play was billed as a biting satire of the America we love to hate. Now I love satire – Le Sud was an excellent example of satire at its best. But I thought this got closer to caricature than satire.

The trouble is almost all the characters were “ugly” Americans, and you (or me anyway) need some characters who are likeable.

I also found the play too long, with a convuluted story. The interval didn’t come until 90 minutes into it, and I had to check the programme to work out if this was the end or not. Upon finding we were only half way through I slipped out – the play just had not gained my interest enough, plus I was at risk of being towed if not out by 10 pm (I must check production times in advance in future).

Possibly not by coincidence, I find that Wikipedia says about the book:

Out of 4,000 Britons polled, 35% of those who started reading this book did not finish it.

I seem to be one of the 35%. As I said there was some very talented and funny acting achieved by the cast, and I did enjoy much of it. Possibly it is my own sensitivity to perceived anti-americanism that meant it didn’t resonate with me, and others could well rave about it. I understand an an intellectual level it was in fact trying to combat anti-americanism, but somehow it just didn’t work for me. Maybe if I had seen the second half, it would have.

However for a very different take, John Smyth at Theatre Review gives it high praise:

It’s a long but well-paced production, full of sound, fury and dark comedy that finally delivers the goods, not least with a well-crafted twist that ensures we don’t leave the theatre bereft of hope. While Vernon God Little has been validly described as the new generation’s Catcher in the Rye, its broad satirical theatricality also recalls Dario Fo.

I’d be interested in feedback from others as to how they found it.Or have you read the book and what did you think of it?

Thanks as always to for the review tickets.

9 Responses to “Vernon God Little”

  1. freshairprince (2 comments) says:

    Loved the book. Haven’t seen the play. I’m surprised at the stat, because I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t say the same for DBC Pierre’s second novel which took me a couple of years to read in several attempts… just a bit dry really. I re-read VGL a month ago after buying in a post-Booker frenzy and I still love it. Resonated far more deeply than some kid in a boat with a tiger.

    With VGL, once I picked up the narrator’s tone I was away, his teenage angst was hilarious, and I agree that while the characters were unlikeable, for me that was the point. Definitely anti-American, but stereotypes exist for a reason ( I can say this because my girlfriend is American). I do think it trends a fine line between caricature and satire, but sometimes they’re not that different. Vernon, as the ‘bad guy’ is honesty personified in a world full of self-absorbed failures, perverts and criminals, and this is what shafts him and what saves him. Marvellous book.

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  2. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:

    I too read the book and loved it. Pretty much agree with what freshairprince says above, though I didn’t find the characters so much unlikeable as a refreshing change from the east coast intellectual (or tough-guy NVC cop) or west coast ditz (or tough guy LA cop) American stereotypes we get from TV. They seemed far more vividly real, and thus held my attention easily.

    Then again, maybe I’m just less discerning than you DPF 😛

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  3. Fisiani (1,185 comments) says:

    Dont fret Heads up. There will be a production of Macbeth in May at the Gryphon, An oldie but a goldie.

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  4. Ed Snack (2,797 comments) says:

    Taste is as taste does, I tried the book and found it shallow and jejeune, I couldn’t summon the willpower to finish it. It may be just that I find these caricature novels so facile in their approach, it can be easy to stylishly slag off what they claim to be the “average american” , I suspect it just means that they haven’t the wit but do possess malevolence. But, that’s one of the beauties of literature.

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  5. STC (46 comments) says:

    I Had no trouble reading the book but didn’t find it great either.

    Vernon just never seemed real enough, as if Dirty But Clean was putting just too much effort into the character. Thats my take anyway.

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  6. Adolf Fiinkensein (3,638 comments) says:

    Hell, I thought your headline was having a shot at the Dompost political correspondent.

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  7. pkiwi (82 comments) says:

    I was sceptical about the book before I picked it up (over-hyped Booker thing), but the more I read the more I found it intriguing. Not surprised it hasn’t translated into the stage as it veers strongly into (very) black comedy and farce rather than mild satire. The caricature of trash culture is gloriously over the top; and some of the characters are like Dickens minor villains. It is one of the more genre-challenging books and definitely one you remember.

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  8. Rooster (1 comment) says:

    I had the hardest time with the book and as someone who’s loathe to not finish a book, no matter how dire it is, I just couldn’t put myself through the agony of it. I felt like it was trying to hard to be a great literary composition and as a consequence fell far short. You couldn’t pay me to go and see it on stage.

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  9. nathanjpm (1 comment) says:

    To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe your opinion of ‘Vernon God Little’ can really count for much considering you only stayed for half of it. I personally believe the second act to be an integral part of the play, and to judge it on the first act alone is quite ignorant on your part. The second act is funny, gripping, enlightening, intense, heartbreaking, beautiful and many other things. There are several twists and turns and an ending that has the audience come to their own conclusion on what has actually happened. Furthermore, you’ll find numerous reviews out their made by critics who saw the WHOLE show and are full of praise for the story, characters, lighting, set and direction – just to name a few. I strongly suggest you attend the matinee performance at 3pm this Saturday when you won’t be at risk of being towed, and can see for yourself how remarkable a play ‘Vernon God Little’ actually is.

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