All right, all right, I confess. I committed what must be a critic’s biggest faux pas: in my attempt to do some pre-show research I stumbled across a review that was somewhat disparaging. And by disparaging I mean crushing.
Walking through the Barceloneta streets towards the Centre Civic I desperately hoped the cool sea breeze would clear my head of the scathing comments and reminded myself to focus on the facts and to keep an open mind. "That’s it", I told myself, "just keep an open mind." After all, this review had been viciously written in 2006, during the play’s first run in New York.
Set in 1948, Vermilion Wine, written and directed by Hunter Tremayne, is a murder-mystery which takes place in the Big Apple. Ian Sinclair (played by Londoner Dan Ryan) is the British private eye on the case. Brooding and broken-hearted, Sinclair’s character is reminiscent of the classic, often clichéd, depiction of an Englishman in old American pictures. He is sharp, subdued, popular with the ladies and slams his verbal opponents with sarcasm and witty quips in a way only a Brit could. Although erring dangerously on the side of stereotyping, the portrayal seems fitting as this play is in essence a tribute to film noir where such clichés would have been celebrated. And like any good noir movie, the story behind Vermilion Wine is more than just crime solving. This play is also a tragic love story. The charming and endearing Sinclair discovers his life is in danger when his former lover Rebecca, a schizophrenic, escapes from an asylum as he tries to unravel the mystery of the missing husband of one Maureen Monroe.
Despite a few dodgy accents, a couple of sound and lighting glitches and the rows of heads scarcely two metres from the 'stage'—referred to as such for the purpose of this review, as it was not in fact a stage but rather a space where the cluster of seats stopped and the space cleared for the performance started—from beginning to end, the play kept me absorbed. The technical mishaps could be overlooked as this was the opening night and apparently securing an appropriate venue was a major obstacle for the company.
Dan Ryan gave a thoroughly captivating performance and his portrayal of the discerning Sinclair was entirely believable. Pamela Sian Evans also gave a wonderful performance as Betty Hopkirk, a patient and accomplice to Rebecca in the asylum. During her scene in Act II which takes place in the asylum itself, her characterisation together with dramatic sound and lighting effects created an atmosphere in which I wholly forgot where I was. I let out an audible gasp, covered my face with my hands leaving a gap between my fingers through which my eyes stared, transfixed on Betty Hopkirk’s every move—I felt instantly transported into a dark Hollywood thriller of the Fifties, albeit a low-budget one. However, some of the magic was lost on Dr. Katarina Karswell, a psychiatrist at the asylum. It wasn’t Stephanie Figuiera’s delivery that I questioned, but rather the historical accuracy of a female doctor, in what looked like a position of high authority, in 1948.
Nevertheless, provided the clichés are taken with a pinch of salt and though it lacks some of the glamour of the genre, the play captures the essence of film noir. With a sprinkle of humour, mostly injected by Alex Klein’s Pete Cristos and the witty jibes in Tremayne’s script, Vermilion Wine is, all in all, an utterly enchanting piece of theatre. Six years is clearly a long time and whatever changes were made since that New York review was written have resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable night out.