Review: Ghost from a Perfect Place, Arcola Theatre

“No-one has the ability to laugh at their misfortunes like the women of the East End”

I wish I liked Philip Ridley’s work more than I admire it. He has, as one of the characters here says “a remarkable way of looking at things” and his commitment to the uniqueness of his dramatic worldview is certainly impressive, it’s just that I don’t always find that I get it or that I even want to. Yet time and time again I go back to his plays as when it does work, it can have an enormous power (cf Mercury Fur).

With the slow but steady establishment of his reputation, many of his earlier works have been popping up in recent years in new productions but it still surprising to learn that this is the first revival of Ghost from a Perfect Place which dates from 1994. Somehow pre-empting and thereby predicting the rise of girl power (think Spice Girls) and gangster loving (think Lock Stock…), it holds a real fascination, if not genuine feeling.

Russell Bolam’s production gets off to a cracking start as Michael Feast’s returning Travis Flood chews the fat with Sheila Reid’s Torchie Sparks, delving into their shared and carrying memories of an East End in the 60s that is as fantastical as it is fondly remembered. Seeing these two dance around the wordplay and shifting moods is brilliant and whether laughing about biscuits or cringing at her rose-tinted naïveté, these scenes make the play worth watching.

The entrance of Torchie’s granddaughter Rio and her colleagues ruptures this world though as their arrival, heralding the dawning of a new age of gang rule, is meant to strike fear into the heart of the ageing Flood and by extension, us the audience. But here the real world has intervened to show us something much scarier and there’s just nowhere near the shock value that presumably these women had on first sight.

Florence Hall, Scarlett Brookes and Rachel Redford certainly have the visual impact but in terms of their characters, there’s something of the chilling that is missing. A late shocking revelation will come as no surprise to those used to Ridley’s work (and felt unusually telegraphed here) and Anthony Lamble’s design and Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting transform the Arcola well but there’s no mistaking the gulf between the first and second halves here.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Playtext cost: £4.50
Booking until 11th October

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