Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse

“We’re privileged to welcome you here”

Something a bit different for a Sunday but definitely worthwhile, Refugees Welcome saw a curated collection of performances exploring the themes of displacement, exodus and the humanitarian disaster of the refugee crisis through the medium of theatre, comedy and poetry. Organised by David Mercatali in support of Calais Action and all their advocacy work as well as aid support for displaced people in camps and hotspots across Europe, it proved a powerful programme of thought-provoking work.

For me, it was most fascinating to how consider how theatre in particular responds to contemporary crises, the speed of response somewhat limited by form, the nature of response dictated by swift-changing news agendas. So the excerpt from Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play Lampedusa, performed by Louise Mai Newberry and the playwright, felt horribly like last year’s news because we’re not being still confronted with the images of overcrowded boats crossing the Med. But the snippet of Tess Berry-Hart’s Cargo, soon to be seen at the Arcola, reminded us that this is not a problem that is going away, and that (certain) theatres are not shying away from. Continue reading “Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre

“Enough is never enough…”

Just a quickie for this return of a show that ranked 6th out of the 304 that I saw last year, Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin. Metal Rabbit and Supporting Wall’s production remains an absolute corker as it dissects the contemporary property market and all the societal baggage that goes with it in the most inimitable of ways. This revival returns to the Soho Theatre ahead of a trip to New York but finds itself in the upstairs space rather than the main house, which is a bit of a shame as it doesn’t work quite as effectively here, though ’tis only a minor quibble.

My original review can be read here and much remains true about David Mercatali’s excellent production. There’s added piquancy now in the casting of Scarlett Alice Johnson (a replacement for Gemma Whelan who sadly had to withdraw) as she’s the IRL partner of Sean Michael Verey and so their chemistry is fascinating to behold as their couple submit to the machinations of Debra Baker’s ‘helper’. Definitely recommended whether you caught it last year or no.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 28th May, then transfers to 59E59 Theatres, New York

Review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre

“I want to do it Ollie. I want more things. Better things.”

The struggles of home ownership seem to be emerging as one of the most popular themes of new plays for early 2015 (Game at the Almeida, Deposit at the Hampstead downstairs) but top of the pile is Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin, a highly hilarious and hugely successful sidestep towards the mainstream but one which sacrifices nothing of the unique worldview that marks him as one of our most thought-provoking playwrights. Almost custom-designed to fit into that much abused term ‘darkly comic’, the play probes mercilessly into the depths of human nature in asking how far would we go in order to get our dream home. 

As it turns out, Jill and Ollie – energetic, enthusiastic, expecting – will go to some lengths indeed, making a deal not quite with the devil but with the fairy godmother-like Miss Dee instead, to accept a free home in a scuzzy area with the hope of renovating it, tipping the locale over into up-and-coming status and spearheading a property boom. So far so Saturday Night Takeaway but as with Ant and Dec, there’s a catch (and it is not just their personalities). The young couple quickly find out that that the speediest way to do up their new house is to harness the “radiance” that comes from killing the vermin around them, namely the homeless people from the neighbouring wasteground.  Continue reading “Review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre”

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. Continue reading “Review: Piranha Heights, Old Red Lion”

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. Continue reading “Review: Ghost from a Perfect Place, Arcola Theatre”

Review: Dark Vanilla Jungle, Soho Theatre

“But then again, there’s a lot of sadness in life. Don’t you think? I do – Where was all this heading? Don’t tell me!”

In a shock development, Philip Ridley’s latest work is a conventional rom-com of a show with a happy ending… As if. It doesn’t even seem credible does it and without fail, Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle exists in the dystopian, fractured worldview of Andrea, a young woman whose desire for love, family and a sense of home crashes hard into an unloving society that sees her exploited and abused with tragic results.

What is different is that it is Ridley’s first monologue for over 20 years and in Gemma Whelan’s hands, it becomes a hugely exhilarating and exhausting experience even just to watch it. The emotional resources she must have to draw on, alongside the technical demands of an intricate, layered 35 page script, result in a sensational performance that strips things back right to raw emotion and impassioned feeling. Continue reading “Review: Dark Vanilla Jungle, Soho Theatre”

Review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Old Red Lion

“That’s all the universe is, one big torture chamber”

Written in the early 1990s, Philip Ridley’s The Fastest Clock in the Universe has always carried echoes of Dorian Gray but watching it in 2013 in Islington’s Old Red Lion theatre pub (where Mercury Fur was memorably revived last year), it is remarkable to see how it prefigured the cult of celebrity and so-called reality television shows like The Only Way is Essex. The perma-tanned, pec-tastic, plucked vanity of protagonist Cougar Glass epitomises the obsession with image that looms large over contemporary society and consequently casts a new sheen over the self-gratifying urges that form the backbone of Ridley’s still disturbing play.

Glass is celebrating his 19th birthday, he’s been celebrating it for a number of years now and aided and abetted by his faithful companion Captain Tock, he has special plans indeed for his party, centred on the twinkish delights of 15 year-old schoolboy Foxtrot Darling. Obsessed with holding back the years, his narcissism is cruelly magnetic yet the vortex it creates pulls people mercilessly into its most destructive orbit, meaning that it is inevitably more than party favours that are going to be handed out by the end of the evening. Continue reading “Review: The Fastest Clock in the Universe, Old Red Lion”

2013 Offie Award Finalists

Offies Awards - Off West End Theatre Awards

Jasper Britton in Mother Adam at Jermyn Street 
Louis Maskell in The Fix at Union Theatre
Thomas Coombes in Barbarians at Tooting Arts Club
William Houston in Uncle Vanya at The Print Room

Aysha Kala in Khadija is 18 at Finborough Theatre
Eileen Atkins in All That Fall at Jermyn Street
Lucy Ellinson in Oh, The Humanity at Soho Theatre
Matti Houghton in Brimstone and Treacle at Arcola Theatre

Lot and his God by Howard Barker at The Print Room 
Lungs by Duncan Macmillan by Paines Plough (Shoreditch Town Hall) 
Shivered by Philip Ridley at Southwark Playhouse Continue reading “2013 Offie Award Finalists”

Review: Mercury Fur, Old Red Lion

Sarcasm will get you shot

Philip Ridley’s ‘moment’ in London continues with this Greenhouse Theatre Company production of Mercury Fur, which follows the Arcola’s Pitchfork Disney and the Southwark Playhouse’s current Shivered and forthcoming return of Tender Napalm. This desolate tale of a society, not so different from our own, on the edge of collapse is often brutally, crushingly dark as a group of young adults make an existence for themselves in any way they can, even in the most horrifying of ways.

Tucked away in a derelict council flat, brothers Elliot and Darren are setting up for a party organised by the ruthless Spinx to fulfil the request of the ‘Party Guest’. But as it becomes clear what kind of event has been arranged and what terrible desires are being sated, the relentless drive to the disturbing climax takes an appalling twist. But even in the midst of this dystopian, drug-fuelled nightmare, Ridley offers us glimmers of hope: buds of love, friendship, tenderness poke their way through the charred remnants of this world but have to fight incredibly hard. Continue reading “Review: Mercury Fur, Old Red Lion”

Review: The Pitchfork Disney, Arcola Theatre

“That’s a nice jacket, a real bobbydazzler”

Some playwrights click with you instantly, and others just don’t. Philip Ridley is one of the latter for me, my limited experience with his work has not been one that I’ve enjoyed and I’ve struggled to make a connection with what it is he is trying to say. He delights in the darkly poetic and wilfully enigmatic, but I rarely get on with that type of play – the word ‘lyrical’ increasingly strikes fear into my heart. But I do like to test out my limits regularly and so I had no problem booking for The Pitchfork Disney at the Arcola to see if it could change my mind.

Written in 1991, this was Ridley’s first play and heralded the new age of in-yer-face theatre with its harsh outlook and depictions of deep social unease and fantastical violence. Twins Presley and Haley live a sheltered existence in a pokey East London, very rarely venturing out into the real world and subsisting on a limited diet of chocolate bars and pills. As we see how twisted and inter-dependent their relationship has become with each sharing disturbing stories with the other, we find out that their parents are no longer with us and haven’t been for some time. An unexpected knock at the door reveals the mysteriously flamboyant figure of Cosmo Disney who sets about shaking up the brother/sister dynamic as we edge closer to finding out about what happened to their parents, and just who Disney’s associate Pitchfork is. Continue reading “Review: The Pitchfork Disney, Arcola Theatre”