Radiant Vermin

Philip Ridley
Metal Rabbit and Supporting Wall
Tobacco Factory Theatres Bristol

Gemma Whelan and Sean Verey, Radiant Vermin

Award-winning and prolific writer Philip Ridley has a well-earned reputation for hard-hitting political satire. From the dystopian Mercury Fur (2005) to the unsettling Tender Napalm (2014), Ridley’s work is provocative and confrontational. In the world première of his latest play at the Tobacco Factory’s Brewery Theatre, Ridley takes in-yer-face to full throttle.

At the start of the play, Jill (Gemma Whelan) and Olly (Sean Verey) explain how they came to find themselves in an all-too-familiar modern predicament: less than adequate housing had left them feeling vulnerable and “forgotten”, and yet powerless to instigate change, until they received a letter informing them they had been selected to benefit from a new government housing scheme.

Enter Miss Dee, Amanda Daniel’s sharp-suited housing scheme agent, a manipulative wordsmith. Dee has all the smarm of a spin-doctor coupled with an uneasy, intimate knowledge of Olly and Jill which ought to have left them cold but which they accept without question in exchange for their “Dream Home”.

Naturally, there’s a catch—there always is—and more fool Olly and Jill, you can't help but think, for not anticipating it. But this is Ridley: the catch is surreal, brutal and leaves you breathless.

With a less masterful treatment, the extended metaphor which runs through this narrative could feel like hand-holding. Ridley certainly pushes it to its limits but the end result is utterly affecting.

Black humour underpins the text, brought to life here by a flawless cast under David Mercatali’s pitch-perfect direction. Mercatali further unpicks Ridley’s take on the sham of charity and good-citizenship, making it all the more uncomfortable by surface-dressing it with Whelan’s and Verey’s good-intentions and painful naivety. And William Reynolds’s stripped-bare design leaves them nowhere to hide. It’s a persuasive combination.

Ultimately, Ridley leaves nothing to chance: he smashes down the fourth wall, throws a mirror to the audience and leaves no-one in any doubt that we are all part of the problem. “Enough is never enough”.

Radiant Vermin is compellingly conceived and impactfully realised, laying bare the ground-level debris Ridley sees in the wake of Big Society, I-want-it-all consumerism, trickle-down capitalism and disingenuous religion.

The production transfers to the Soho Theatre, London March 10 to April 12, 2015.

Reviewer: Allison Vale

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