11 August 2016

A brilliant evening with Dark Vanilla Jungle at The Cockpit

This was a very mixed evening, it ended brilliantly but there were a few hiccoughs along the way.

There are four playwrights that I have Google Alerts set up for and Philip Ridley is one of them. So it irked me somewhat to find out about a production of his play Dark Vanilla Jungle at one of my regular theatre by accident. I forget the details now but I presume it was via Twitter, it normally is.

The Cockpit Theatre used to be a pleasant walk around Regent's Park from my office in Kings Cross but working in Teddington meant coming up with alternative plans. It was a sunny evening so I opted to take the train to Wimbledon, the tube to South Kensington and to walk the rest of the way including a jaunt through Hyde Park. That was a very pretty walk taking in the Serpentine Gallery Summer Pavilion, some sculptures and the Italian Gardens. The plan was working.

I had time for a proper meal and my plan included a curry in a place I had been before. That plan went less well. Conscious of the time I placed my simple order as soon as I got in there but 30 minutes later and I did not even have a papadum to show for it. I had to leave then so I went to pay for the mango lassi that had arrived, they were all very apologetic and offered me a free meal later that evening and I was all very reasonable about it and declined due to lack of time. I forgave them, we parted amicably and I'll be back. Plan B, not for the first time, was a packet of Nobby's Nuts and a bottle of beer in the theatre bar just before the performance.

This was almost 9pm and that brings me on to the last bad point. I do not know who thought that 9pm was a good time to put a play on, particularly one that demanded attention all the way through. This, combined with the lack of publicity, probably explained the low turnout. I don't think that it was the smallest audience that I have ever been in but it was close.

I made my way into the theatre and took a seat in the second row in my usual area (the front row is too low and is like sitting on a child's chair). The stage was bare apart from a desk, a chair and a woman sitting on it. And that is all that there was throughout the performance.

She was writing what I assumed was a statement of some sort and that turned out to be right. This was Andrea and for the next 90 minutes or so she told us her story.

It was a story that leaped around in time, something she apologised to us for, as she told us about how her parents met and how she came to be living with her grandmother, who she did not get on with.

Early on she dropped big hints as to what might come, with references to a soldier, a baby and dark events in Epping Forest, before we converged on the story of her and Tyrone.

That was a pretty dark story too. I think we all saw the sexual grooming coming though the brutality was no less shocking because of that. Andrea's reaction was equally shocking as she tried to reconcile what had happened to her with her love for Tyrone. Things got a little weird after that but remained gripping and absorbing.

Every Philip Ridley play I had seen, this was my fifth, had been so rich with ideas that I am sure that many of them passed me by on a first watching. The time-hoping was the simplest to understand and simply mirrored how we communicate normally, a tale is rarely told chronologically. There were relatively few references to religion and mysticism compared to his other works but they were there. More obvious were the repeated lines, or themes, such as the descriptions of two people meeting for the first time and the ice creams, which is where I presume the "vanilla" in the title came from.

It was a well crafted play, as I knew that it would be, with the themes leaping and mingling while the mood bounced up and down in different phases, like a symphony. One scene that clings vividly in my memory had an angry Andrea scattering c-bombs like confetti having never used such strong language before.

I am beyond praise for Lexie Braverman who played Andrea in the gruelling one-woman show. It was a difficult enough task to do all the talking for 90 minutes and was made even more difficult by the subject matter and more difficult still by the extreme variation in mood required. Lexie was brilliant.

The staging was good too. Like the gymnastics floor exercise, full use was made of the marked out square with Lexie sometimes moving the desk to another part of the stage where it became something else.

The best indication of how gripped I was by the play and the performance was is that I still had some of my beer left at the end of it. Even taking a swig would have been too much of an interruption.

It was late when it finished, 10:30pm to save you doing the maths, and with a difficult journey home (thanks to closing the road to/from Richmond) I was not keen to hang around but I did stay just long enough to say a few words with Lexie. I would have liked linger but then she deserved a rest too, I was exhausted from watching it so I can only guess at how drained she must have been.

Dark Vanilla Jungle was a difficult play to watch because of the subject matter but I am very glad that I did.

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