Review: Piranha Heights, Old Red Lion

“Stay out of my sight cos you’re likely to light my fuse”

South of the river, Philip Ridley’s natural home is the Southwark Playhouse but up north, it is the Old Red Lion that has proved an ideal fit as a series of revivals there continues with Piranha Heights. The warped uniqueness of his apocalyptic worldview is well suited to the claustrophobic intimacy that can be generated in this Angel pub theatre, under the new artistic directorship of Stewart Pringle, and this D.E.M. Productions take on this 2008 play is no exception.

There’s anger here, elemental fury that literally shakes the walls of Cécile Trémolières’ inventive set as the responsibilities that one generation owes to the next are explored and exploded, and repeated as the next ones come along. The impact of parental legacies – both emotional in the psychological damage they can inflict, and physical in the passing on of property and effects – make this a fantastical yet gripping theatrical experience under Max Barton’s direction.

Terry and Alan gather at their dead mother’s flat but soon fall into old patterns of bombastic brotherly behaviour as they battle over who gets the place – Alan wants to install himself and his troubled son Garth to make up for missing most of his childhood, but Terry has already invited the young squatters from down the hall. His bullying dominance over Alan is shaken when his invitees arrive and reveal how they in turn have been fucked up by his own generation.

Phil Cheadle’s initial bovver-boot belligerence is highly watchable as he lords it over Alex Lowe’s doughy Alan but the play gets a shot in the arm with the arrival of Ryan Gerald’s Medic, taut as a tripwire and bubbling over with pyroclastic flow as his dark and fantastical visions spill forth. And then after the interval, it is further electrified by Jassa Ahluwalia’s Garth, leaving the production shaking like “a chihuahua in a cement mixer” as their sexual energy and hyperviolence combust in compelling style.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Playtext cost: £4
Booking until 6th December

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