Dark Vanilla Jungle

Philip Ridley
Second Sons
Theatre N16

Emily Thornton as Andrea

A play of intense, earnest and darkly comic storytelling, Dark Vanilla Jungle is a one-woman show that makes a perfect fringe production. With an unsettling narrative, scant props and no interval, the script is unrelenting, uncompromising and exhausting.

The confused and abused Andrea is played by the hugely committed Emily Thornton whose eyes dart and emotions quickly surface and then simmer. She brings a great warmth and vulnerability to the character, awkwardly twisting her hair and standing pigeon-toed whilst remembering happier times and her mother’s song. Her eyes light up when reminiscing but a harder and more aggressive character lurks beneath, often challenging the audience and frequently herself.

This carefully structured ramble through her fractured childhood and painful teenage years is littered with beautifully poetic turns of phrase and repeated similes. As these begin to blur, it becomes clear that she is an unreliable narrator who is either fooling herself or hoping to fool whoever she is sharing her story with. As her interpretation of reality begins to spin out of control, so does the language of the script, with her thought process snapping from topic to topic.

Thornton provides comic relief for her own dramatic performance, switching in and out of other characters with ease, even asking the audience rhetorical questions about their sex lives with a twinkle in her eye. It is these moments that stop Ridley’s tale becoming too bleak and suggest that, with a steer in the right direction, the character could have used her wit and intelligence for great things.

Without clarity of setting, it’s only when Andrea makes reference to texting a friend that it becomes obvious this is a modern tale. Confined within a small space, dressed in a hospital smock with only bucket and toilet roll for company, her descriptions of family violence, abuses of power and childhood memories could sadly fit any time period.

Dark Vanilla Jungle is a tortuous tale that cleverly leaves enough gaps in the narrative to leave the audience with many questions about Andrea and her situation. However, running at 80 minutes, even this expertly paced production begins to drag as the conclusion starts veering towards the melodramatic.

Reviewer: Amy Yorston