Radiant Vermin

Philip Ridley
Tron Theatre Company
Tron Theatre

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Martin Quinn as Ollie, Julie Wilson Nimmo as Miss Dee & Dani Heron as Jill Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic
Julie Wilson Nimmo as Miss Dee, Dani Heron as Jill Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic
Martin Quinn as Ollie, Dani Heron as Jill Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

Jill and Ollie live in a flat in a depressing area where drugs and suicide are common; they aspire to better. This is not just for their unborn child but for themselves. They want to have their Dream Home.

Enter Miss Dee. Capturing their aspirational outlook on life, she sells them the easy decision of getting a house for free to do up. Despite reservations, ostensibly from Ollie, they sign up. Determined to renovate their home in styles seen by Jill in a variety of magazines, their first night is interrupted by an intruder, whom Ollie kills. His victim, though a magic Miss Dee alluded to prior to their first night in their new home, turns the death of an undesirable into a fully fitted and functioning kitchen, just as Jill had imagined and seen in Selfridges.

The following night, another intruder, another slaying, another ideal room. Recognizing that the magic happens after they kill someone homeless, Jill and Ollie become relentless in their renovation. And so, each unfortunate from the margins’ death delivers yet another beautiful material possession, which draws people to buy in this newly created housing hotspot and they now live in a fully populated close.

Then, having changed, adapted and renovated several times, they receive a challenge from their ungrateful neighbours which may necessitate a move. Enter Miss Dee. Once more capturing their aspirational outlook on life, she sells them the easy decision of getting another new house for free to climb the property ladder.

This is sharp, witty and black beyond the pale. As a play, Philip Ridley has evoked the unedifying and dreadful behaviour of people who want to get on. Without any care for anyone, their greed is laid bare, but in a manner which is recognisable. There is little by way of any concern for community or any note or mention of the people they are sacrificing for their own gain. And yet, the characters are rounded sufficiently to take us on this hilarious flight without a parachute. It is balanced, nuanced and hard hitting. That the play is almost a decade old says a lot about housing, the financial market and the lack of socially cohesive progress. We may laugh and may do so uncomfortably, but the fact it resonates speaks more volumes than the howl of laughter in the auditorium.

The delivery is equal to the task. As Ollie and Jill, Martin Quinn and Dani Heron excel. There is a section in act two which will live long in the memory of them playing their characters and inhabiting every caricature of their neighbours. Quinn quips it may be too “Meisner”, but, meta-analysis aside, it is masterclass level, maintaining a fast pace and delivering a very funny section. As Miss Dee and one of the unfortunate victims, Julie Wilson Nimmo adds the menace and pathos with her customary great skill.

The pace is relentless, from an introduction, by Jill and Ollie, slowly drawing us into the piece, and it refuses to allow us the opportunity to contemplate what we are seeing. It acts like a summer blockbuster on celluloid, with the opportunity to reflect lost. It captures Jill and Ollie’s unquestioning commitment to renovation, stopping any questioning until the final party where Ollie begins to hear possible criticism and discovery in almost every syllable.

Director Johnny McKnight, well used to making us laugh, mainly uproariously, has opted for breakneck. It is here that I began to wonder about how effective the message was being delivered. As a political satire, it was being lost slightly to the opportunity for absurd comedy. The absurdity needs contemplation as the question of why a 9-year-old play, which was zeitgeisty at its debut, is still relevant today.

As for the technical support, there is creative innovation in Kenny Miller’s design which gives us the outline of a house for us all to fill in, then, like a children’s drawing, draws round it in coloured lights to suit the mood of the moment. It is sheer genius. Hinting at the naïveté of both principal characters, it feeds well into the overall narrative, adding an effective visual metaphor.

There is little doubt of the quality on offer, but the issue remains of the message being delivered. Entertaining as it is, there is a very serious and highly charged political comment. Ridley has given us a very important storyline, it needs to have justice in its delivery and whilst this does not fall short, nuances in messaging are important and here they sometimes get lost in amongst the laughs.

Reviewer: Donald C Stewart

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