Directed by John Young and starring Joyce Branagh and Dominic Holmes, Vincent River takes aim at homophobia and hate crime with a real and breath-taking honesty. This rousing modern classic, which premiered in London’s Hampstead Theatre back in 2000, slides under the surface of fear, hatred and love.
Davey has seen something he can’t forget. Anita has been forced to flee her home. These two have never met. Tonight their paths cross with devastating consequences.
We caught up with Joyce Branagh who plays Anita ahead of opening in Manchester to hear more about this exciting and intriguing piece of theatre.
ON – What attracted you to this production of Vincent River, and role?
JB – The play itself really. It’s been relocated by Philip Ridley to be set in Manchester, which means it feels like we’re doing a brand new play. It’s a fantastic piece of writing – it manages to be naturalistic, but at the same time has lots of poetry within it. It also has elements of a ‘whodunnit’ – we’re constantly trying to work out exactly what’s happening – and that gives it a huge amount of drive and drama too – which I think will be exciting to watch. Philip came to rehearsals on our first day, which was great – we got to pick his brains – but it also meant we had to do the first read through with the author in the room. Dom and I were terrified! I play Anita – she’s a strong Mancunian matriarch – she could easily pop up on Corrie…straight talking, witty, sharp as a button, but because of the death of her son, she’s wounded and her vulnerability keeps surfacing. She a really complex contradictory character – which is really intriguing to play.
ON – The subject matter of Vincent River is very hard hitting and emotional. Is it hard to shake that off at the end of the day’s rehearsals?
JB – It can be a bit pummelling doing this – especially at the end of a long day. But it only lasts for about 5 minutes. Then you get back to real life. And I think that because the play has a sort of cathartic element to it, that you have that too… you get it out of your system by doing it. In a weird way, it’s kind of exhilarating. We also tell each other a lot of bad jokes in the breaks. (I have a huge supply).
ON – I imagine that chemistry between you and your co-star is very important for a piece like Vincent River – how are you and Dominic developing this and are you enjoying working together?
Dominic is a fab actor – I met him in the audition, and to be honest he’s another reason why I took the job. I thought – “Ooh he’s good. I’ll have to be on my toes with him”. I feel safe with him as an actor – which is great. It means you can let the characters battle, but you don’t have to. And that’s what the play needs – two people who are sparring with each other – trying to work each other out get what they want. He also buys lots of mini donuts for us all, which I find very important in a co-actor.
ON – Vincent River is to be performed for a month at Hope Mill Theatre – have you been to this venue before? Either as a performer or audience member?
I’ve never performed at Hope Mill, but I’ve seen lots of productions there. (I’m going in a couple of days to see The Replacement Child actually…) Because of the versatility of the space, it’s feels very different every time. I thought I’d seen every configuration – but I think we’re doing something different again! I think our audiences are going to be surprised by our set-up actually… but I think it’ll help to intensify the experience – make everyone feel that they are actually in the room with us.
ON – You are a regular on the theatre scene in Greater Manchester – why do you think we have such a vibrant and varied arts scene up here?
Why? – I don’t know. But isn’t it fantastic? I feel like this year things may even have gone up a notch. There have been so many plays on that I’ve really wanted to see, and so many coming up that I’ve had to get my diary out and strategically plan when I can fit everything in – and I’ve still missed some productions that sounded fantastic.
ON – You’re a successful theatre director as well as actor. Do you have a preference and if so, why?
No preference. I love both – and I feel very lucky when I get the opportunity to hop between the two. With this I know what a strong connection John Young our director has to the play, which means I can relax and let him take the strain! I love directing – getting projects underway, bringing a great team together and crafting a show… but then it’s so lovely to leave all that stuff behind and just solely get into the head of a character and bring them to life. Especially a character as juicy as Anita. She’s a belter. Thanks Philip Ridley!
Vincent River begins previews at Hope Mill Theatre on Tuesday 27th Feb before official opening night on Thursday 1st March and runs through until Saturday 24th March tickets available here. Standard tickets £15 concessions £12.