“Radiant Vermin” at the Soho Theatre

Although I admire Philip Ridley’s work, and believe that he will be a writer with an enduring legacy, his plays should be approached with caution, as his stories and imagery are as ruthless as they are rich – visceral is the word often used. Ridley’s latest work, Radiant Vermin, emphasises his interest in fairy tales and, taking the housing crisis as its subject, is more overtly satirical than other pieces. Startlingly original, the play is a take on Londoners’ desperation for a home, and proves thought provoking, eminently theatrical and superbly written.

Gemma Whelan and Sean Michael Verey star as Jill and Ollie, “good people” offered the chance to participate with the Department of Social Regeneration through the Creation of Dream Homes. A fairy godmother figure, Miss Dee, says nothing about the supernatural catch – renovations occur when homeless people are killed – linking the housing crisis to bigger societal problems and affording Ridley lyrical scope. Playing both Miss Dee and a homeless woman sacrificed to transform Jill and Ollie’s home, Amanda Daniels gives two great performances. Whelan and Verey also dazzle with multiple roles, including neighbours who move to the gentrified area, performing awe-inspiring verbal gymnastics.

For some, the allegorical quality of Radiant Vermin will be too heavy handed, the tone too preachy and the scenes too long. But Ridley is a writer of excess – fantastical and baroque – who deserves indulgence. The play makes a stark comparison with Mike Bartlett’s Game, sharing subject matter and an outlandish approach. The comparison confirms Ridley’s skills. While Bartlett has huge technical resources, Ridley’s work is presented on white stage. Inspiringly, bells and whistles aren’t needed by Ridley – just the words.

Until 12 April 2015


Photo by Anna Soberblom

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