It’s Monday afternoon in Nun’s Island theatre and Decadent director Andrew Flynn is rehearsing a scene from Vernon God Little with actors Jarlath Tivnan, Eilish McCarthy, and Peter Shine.
Flynn patiently re-runs the scene several times, honing the nuances of how the lines are delivered and the physical positioning of the actors, tweaking lines here and there so that everything runs smoothly. At length, satisfied with the work they have done for now, Flynn calls a lunch break and the cast disperses, with Jarlath Tivnan joining me for a chat about the play.
Tivnan has been on something of a hot streak lately. In July, he excelled as Malachy Dudgeon in GYT/Galway Community Theatre’s staging of The Dead School during the Arts Festival. Last week saw another personal triumph when his impressive debut play, Pleasure Ground, in which he also acted, was staged by Fregoli at the Town Hall to standing ovations.
He now takes the title role in Decadent’s stage adaptation of DBC Pierre’s award-winning novel which embarks on a national tour following its Galway run.
Vernon God Little is a riotous, irreverent adventure with a fast-talking fifteen-year-old who cruelly ends up on a version of death row driven by the rules of reality TV.
Vernon Little lives in a flea–bitten Texan town, ‘the barbeque sauce capital of the state’, where his best friend has just massacred sixteen of his classmates and then killed himself. The town wants vengeance and turns its sights on the innocent Vernon who is arrested at the start of the story.
Vernon hits the road and flees to Mexico pursued by a media circus of outlandish proportions. Amid all the comedy, Vernon’s innate innocence also exposes the corrupt nature of American justice in the eye of a media storm, a theme that remains sharply topical today.
I begin by asking Jarlath whether he was familiar with the novel before tackling the stage version. “I was,” he replies. “We were doing a production of The Butcher Boy in 2012 for the Arts Festival. Andrew mentioned the book Vernon God Little and also that there was a play of it then running in London and how he would love to get his hands on the script sometime. As soon as he mentioned the book, I went to Charlie Byrne’s immediately and bought a copy and here we are now.”
How would he personally describe the character of Vernon Little? “Vernon is similar in many ways to Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye,” Jarlath observes. “He is a teenager who feels a lot of disenchantment and disillusion about the adults and the world that surround him. They are all buzzing like crazy flies around his ears.
"Although he is one of the youngest characters in the story, amongst the whole town he has a level of sanity that the rest of them don’t, which is a nice difference between him and the rest. He is a really interesting character. He has a very strong perspective on life and on people’s behaviour and the way they perceive things. The way he himself perceives things is very adult-like even though he is only fifteen.”
Jarlath declares that the novel translates very well to the stage: “In the book itself the language is very theatrical. You could just take a chapter out of the book and read it aloud on stage and it would be very entertaining to listen to. The language just fizzes with energy and colour and vitality. Before I had ever seen the stage script I found the story very theatrical.”
While Jarlath has worked with most of the cast in GYT/Galway Community Theatre shows, Vernon God Little also sees him share the stage with Little John and he has been enjoying their scenes together: “He plays the psychiatrist Dr Goosens and Vernon’s arch nemesis, the reporter, Lally.
"Little John is a gentleman, Lally isn’t a gentleman and neither is Dr Goosens but Little John certainly is. The scenes are so funny between Vernon and those two characters, so we are having a great time playing them. He is brilliant. He’ll bring the house down, I am sure.”
Another major element in the show is the soundtrack; “The music is provided by a trio called The Lifebuoys and they are brilliant,” Jarlath enthuses. “We worked with them before in Midsummer and also Shay Mouse. They are coming on tour with us and are providing all the wonderful songs. It is that real Texas, Bible-belt, sort of music that really suits the tone of the play, creating a whole other dynamic in the production.”
His final comments on Vernon God Little? “It’s a play like no other! This is the first time it has been done in Ireland. Come and enjoy it.”
Vernon God Little opens at the Town Hall on Monday, September 7, running until Saturday, September 12. There are previews from the Thursday, September 3 to Saturday, September 5. After its Galway run, the production embarks on a nationwide tour.
Tickets can be purchased from the Town Hall Theatre website at www.tht.ie or by calling 091 569777.