Piranha Heights

Philip Ridley
Soho Theatre
(2008)

The last play in Philip Ridley's Brothers trilogy is the theatrical equivalent of a gigantic Jackson Pollock splatter painting. It is shocking with little surface meaning but is addictive and, to some, inexplicably attractive.

Ridley is one of the few purveyors of In Yer Face who has not grown out of the genre. He still consciously sets out to shock and while Piranha Heights hasn't quite the blatant offensiveness of Mercury Fur, it will still cause some to decide that 90 minutes of full-on assault is far, far too long.

Ridley aficionados would not dare to travel to East London, fearing that it might actually live up to his portrayals. Once again, its inhabitants are seen as murderous psychos who would as soon throttle you as give you a light.

The setting is a living room frozen in the 1960s, belonging to staid Alan and manic Terry's recently deceased Mum. Rather than mourn her death, the contrasting, middle-aged brothers, played by Nicolas Tennant and Matthew Wait, fight and slander her name. They also argue over an unexciting inheritance that could set one of them up for a new life of inevitable debauchery.

With them is a neighbour Jade Williams' Lilly, dressed in the full burka of her people. She tells tales of her family's murder and her own rape by GIs prior to a five-day ride to the limited freedom of what is presumably a Hackney tower block.

As devout Muslims go, she is far from polished, struggling with her prayers and using a language that is far from the usual Arabic. Her main role is to act as a kind of boxing referee yelling "no violence" when the filial jousting gets out of hand, though she also nurses a baby boy who looks uncannily like a doll.

The unconventional trio begin to seem like affectionate pussycats when John McMillan, playing Lilly's partner Medic, shows up. He may be highly articulate but Medic seems totally spaced-out, living life in some parallel science fiction world where violence is de rigueur and eager to hurt someone.

The madness continues with the arrival of Luke Treadaway as Alan's son Garth, an animal torturer whose main dilemma is whether he would prefer to kill dad before or after Uncle Terry.

Remarkably, from there Lisa Goldman's production begins to calm with the two young men discovering that they are kindred spirits and the brothers thrown together in an unholy alliance.

This nightmarish look at London life today is not cheerful viewing but can be very funny. If one had to hazard a guess at its primary message this might be to show the inner turmoil of familial loss as a symbolic representation of a secular society at war with itself. Then again ......

Philip Fisher