24 March 2015

Radiant Vermin at the Soho Theatre showed the charming side of mass-murder

I was a fairly late in discovering Philip Ridley, it all started with Ghost from a Perfect Place in October 14, but I fell in love with his writing very quickly and that made Radiant Vermin a must-see for me.

While the Soho is not one of my very favourite theatres, it lacks the front of house atmosphere for that, it is still one that I like a lot and it had the advantage of being well placed, in Soho funnily enough. It's location helped here as I had to be in Reading during the day and so had to rush back to see this. It's a routine that I am used to now and the only tricky bit was deciding which pasty to get at the station.

Queueing for the theatre at Soho is always awkward and people, myself included, hung around the door to the bar. Things got better when another show was called as that thinned the numbers considerably. When it was our turn I was well placed enough and alert enough to get a front-row seat.

There was not much to look at, apart from a white stage with a slightly raised white background. I was already liking it.

Then we met young couple Ollie and Jill who said that they had a story to tell us and that they were really nice people really but they had done some pretty terrible things. They did all this in a cheesy TV advert sort of way while wearing the sort of clothes that only people with no imagination wear, something like M&S but a little posher. Alan Partridge would have approved.

Then it got quickly got complicated and complex as we were sucked into a typical Ridley realm that blended typical family life with horror, mystery, humour and politics, and they were just the most obvious ingredients in a most delightful stew.

The basic premise was that they were approached by a Miss D., offering them the chance to get a new house for free. This would be in a run-down area and they would have to do it up by themselves. The aim being to encourage other people back into the neglected area by planting the seed of one restored house.

So far so good and plausible too.

Then an accident reveals a quick way to get the house not just restored but refashioned exactly as they wished it could be. The bad news was that somebody had to die but the less bad news was that this was a vagrant who nobody would miss. The story evolved quickly from there and the couple got the house that they wanted and they got better at killing vagrants.

That opened all sorts of questions, such as how much did the Government really know about this scheme (e.g. did they see the loss of vagrants as another benefit?), how many such schemes where there?, who or what was Miss D.?, did the scheme work by magic, science or was there a religious element?

As the couple sunk deeper and deeper into the horror (from our perspective), they remained resolutely charming, happy and nice. It was a bit like Helen Mirren calmly disposing of bodies in Red 2, and it was funny for the same reason.

The regeneration scheme worked and they gradually acquired a set of new neighbours of the aspirational class that the Government would have approved of.

The number of characters grew but the cast did not and the couple took on the additional roles effortlessly and seamlessly. In one superb scene, a BBQ, all the characters were on stage at the same time and were talking quickly to each other. This was exceptional quick-fire acting from Gemma Whelan and Sean Michael Verey and I was exhausted just watching them.

The brilliance of the piece was the way that it took an empty white stage, added two people (plus a little help from a third) and managed to conjure up something that exploded in many directions, any one of which would have been satisfying on its own. This is typical of Ridley and why I am such a fan of his work.

It was almost irrelevant that the cute Summer-frock wearing mother, Gemma Whelan, was rather better known as the woman warrior Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, though that did make me respect her even more as an actor.

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