‘Multi-layered and masterful’: Leaving Vietnam, Park Theatre – review

Leaving Vietnam at Park Theatre

Leaving Vietnam. Photograph: John Gomez

Jimmy Vandenberg was never political. Raised by his grandmother in small-town Michigan, he signed up to go to in Vietnam with the Marines to prove himself. But Vietnam was not the heroic war his grandfather had fought in, and Jimmy returned in bewilderment to a country full of animosity toward those who had taken part in it. Now half a century later, his anger still festering, he is drawn to the populist narrative of Make America Great Again, with ill consequences for his marriage.

This enthralling one-man show, written and performed by Richard Vergette, tells the story of Jimmy’s emotional journey to leave Vietnam behind. It is also the tale of so many who, like him, worked hard building cars for Ford, only to see the manufacturing heart of the Midwest turn to rust. What is left is a sense of betrayal and perceived lack of respect for working men who have served their country.

Directed by Andrew Pearson and Andy Jordan, this is a powerful multi-layered drama that reaches toward understanding. Though set in the US, there are clear resonances with the UK’s own shameful military forays into Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, and the vicissitudes of de-industrialisation that were the breeding ground for Brexit.

Vergette’s masterful performance has the audience on the edge of its seat through the whole of the 70-minute show. For all those interested in coming to terms with the current divide in social attitudes, this is definitely not one to miss.

Leaving Vietnam
Until 8 April 2023
Park Theatre
Clifton Terrace
Finsbury Park
N4 3JP