Leaving Vietnam by Richard Vergette. Park2000, 13 Clifton Terrace, London N4 to 8 April 2023. 4****. William Russell

On the day of the press night for this one man play about a Vietnam Vet facing up to his past and how it has affected his country by coincidence our Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was uttering politician’s platitudes at the National Arboretum about that other American failure in which we took part – the invasion of Iraq. It leant an added savour to the play in which Vergette plays Jimmy Vandenberg who runs a business repairing old, obsolete cars – he had worked for the company which made Ford Mustangs and when that ended his best friend suggested he set up in business repairing old models. He is married to Bernice, and he has adopted her daughter. He is the sort of middle American male deeply unhappy with how society has developed ripe to fall for the call to make America great again. What we get is his rediscovery that his life has not been wasted and the mistakes of the past can be lived with.

Maybe Vergette needs to calm down a little – the room is fairly small and at times he was hitting the back wall a little too loudly – but it is still a stunning performance as Jimmy comes to terms with what he did, with what others did and how some flourished afterwards while for many what they had done was best forgotten. In spite of that memorial in Washington vets are best forgotten. It is very much a Deer Hunter tale and, although it does have resonance as far as what happened to British soldiers involved in the Iraq war, Vietnam was not our war. Jimmy was a marine, which was why he was sent there. The discovery he makes is that his best friend was there too, but he was drafted, and this and a meeting with the son of the army doctor, Alvorado, who sustained him during the war – they visit the memorial together – are the catalyst to his discovering how to carry on living. Vergette creates a splendidly troubled soul and his control of the piece is so strong that when someone in the front row dropped a glass at his feet he bent down, picked it up, handed it back with not a break in the flow of the monologue.

Jimmy Vandenberg: Richard Vergette.

Directors: Andrew Pearson & Andy Jordan.

Lighting: Christopher Corner.

Original Music: Don Hill.

Production Photographs: Janet Hobson.

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