Tag Archives: Philip Ridley

“Leaves of Glass” at the Park Theatre

This welcome revival, from Lidless Theatre, of Philip Ridley’s 2007 play confirms the author as a consistently brilliant playwright. The subject matter includes child abuse and depression – not easy to watch – but what chills and inspires is how Ridley balances accusations, denials and shifting stories while showing how trauma lives on, affecting lives and shaping futures.

Ridley’s is a harsh look at cruel subjects. A sense of paranoia, woven into every line, reflects how the character Steven’s life falls apart: his wife and mother seem against him, while his troubled younger brother makes cryptic demands about confessing… something. Ridley reveals plot as well as any thriller, and director Max Harrison takes his lead – the show is gripping.

The script boasts vivid images: this is a lucid world of violence, vermin and the unexplained. All the unsettling tropes are given time, as they should be – the language is astonishing. Nonetheless, the play is more of a conventional domestic drama than many Ridley offerings – a family putting on a show is clear. Harrison’s incisive approach is further confirmed with the piece’s black humour when the brothers fight or their mum lays down the law.

All the performers clearly admire the script and share Harrison’s vision. Katie Buchholz highlights the strength of her character, Debbie, who is Steven’s wife, adding to the play’s tension. Kacey Ainworth, as the boys’ mother, has strong comedy skills, while the way she ages from one scene to the next at the end of the play left me awe-struck.

Joseph Potter

Joseph Potter takes the role of younger brother Barry, an alcoholic begging and threatening to unearth a past that has ruined his life, balancing sympathy and threat. As his performance in a previous play, Poltergeist, testifies, Potter is an expert at Ridley. He brings a manic energy that matches the writing marvellously.

Taking the lead is Ned Costello in the hugely demanding role of Steven. Understatement is the key to this magnificent performance – Steven’s cool demeanour can be funny but is the first step in our starting to suspect him. As questions mount, Costello shows cracks. It is remarkable that the character can be both sinister and seem weak. At the play’s powerful conclusion, Costello is deeply disturbing.

While scenes with family members are electric, Ridley is a master of the monologue (you can still check out a lockdown highlight – a whole series of fantastic shorts). Steven’s soliloquies are exquisite, brimming with ideas and originality, balancing simple story telling with complex themes. Showing Ridley’s skills with such steely precision secures a five-star rating: an excellent play and production.

Until 3 June 2023


Photos by Mark Senior

“Tender Napalm” at the King’s Head Theatre

With a series of exciting monologues last year, prolific playwright Philip Ridley had a good lockdown. But I’m not alone in wanting Ridley’s work back on stage. This expert revival of a real gem is a thrilling treat.

Tender Napalm is a romance, told with startling originality. The memories and fantasies of a couple swing from love to hate. The stories they concoct between them are gripping – passionate and violent.

Tales you’d “hardly believe” feature unicorns, UFOs and a common or garden tsunami! In suggesting spontaneity, while delivering Ridley’s poetic lines, performers Adeline Waby and Jaz Hutchins are superb.

Kit Hinchcliffe’s minimal design is a perfect blank canvas for colourful displays of imagination. A potentially static piece, Sam Angell’s bold work as movement director is strong. The occasionally childlike movements are particularly unsettling.

What is poisoning the relationship we watch, the motive for a kind of therapeutic exercise, is surely the death of a child. Ridley isn’t explicit: emotions, like the scenarios, are fluid. But whatever is wrong creates increasing tension.

Yet tenderness is present too. It’s in allowing the care between the characters to show that Hutchins and Waby excel. A change of pace towards the end of the piece is exquisitely handled.

Director Max Harrison has a thorough appreciation of Ridley’s brilliant text. Best of all, Harrison balances a peculiar dark humour with Ridley’s astonishing imagination. The “universe of dreams” this production provides a view of is, in all senses of the word, fantastic.

Until 20 November 2021


Photo by Mark Senior

“The Poltergeist” from the Southwark Playhouse

Tramp Productions continue to thrill fans of Philip Ridley during lockdown. While it’s hoped that the playwright’s cancelled show, The Beast of Blue Yonder, goes ahead one day, The Beast Will Rise web series was fantastic. Now another new monologue has been filmed for an exciting live stream.

The recording benefits from its location, albeit sadly empty, because of the extra space. In an excellent performance, energetically directed by Wiebke Green, Joseph Potter makes his character appropriately expansive. The extra room, after so much filming from homes, suits the energy of this latest creation from Ridley – an artist called Sasha.

The action centres on Sasha at his niece’s birthday party, an event he describes as a “new circle of hell”. But this is hardly the apocalyptic setting for otherworldly events Ridley often specialises in. East London is described with the playwright’s usual skill, detail and beauty. But it’s mundane Ilford that low-key events occur in. Don’t worry though, there’s nothing tame about this play’s spirit.

It’s a marvel to see how Ridley fleshes out characters who never appear; The Poltergeist becomes a family drama despite being a monologue. For Sasha, his family looks like a pretty Monet painting but is really a Damien Hirst installation. Yet it becomes clear a despised sister-in-law is just trying hard to be nice. And niece Robin is a kindred spirit whose “beautiful and scary” artwork could well summarise the feel of the whole play.

“beautiful and scary”

The Poltergeist isn’t scary because of the supernatural but since Sasha is so damaged. Potter conveys the character’s pain wonderfully, with anxiety keeping the audience on edge. Alongside an addiction to painkillers, Sasha’s grip on reality is blurred by his powerful imagination and his paranoia. So much life seems like a film set to him. A brief brush with fame and personal grief have caused profound damage.

Ridley challenges us to retain the sympathy Sasha deserves. It’s a challenge Potter’s performance doesn’t shy away from. Irascible, “sneering at everyone” and potentially violent, it’s easy to see this prodigy as spoilt and literally destructive. But Sasha still wins hearts, how?

A strong romance allows light into the play and a touch of stability in Sasha’s life. The relationship with his partner Chet is a constant presence. This being Ridley, the affair is sharp with sometimes painful truths. But the love is sincere and supportive.  Vividly rendered in Potter’s asides, Chet calls Sasha a “force of nature” – it’s hard to disagree. The outcome is a touch more hope than many of Ridley’s plays offer. Another surprising move from this master playwright, and a welcome one.

Until 21 November 2020


“The Beast Will Rise” from Tramp Productions

While the cancellation of Philip Ridley’s The Beast of Blue Yonder is regrettable, this series of monologues – released weekly – features the cast due to perform his play and is admirable compensation.

Directed by Wiebke Green, the online project shows the breadth of Ridley’s imagination and his inimitable style. Full of vivid images and memorable phrases, the stories and sense of humour are unmistakable. 

Fantastic beasts and

Animals, and the animalistic in us, are joined with apocalyptic scenarios and touches of fairy tales in this collection.  There’s a sense of nature, including human nature, as dangerous but also magical.

Take Telescope (with beasts are in the stars and wildlife on the local common), a piece that Unique Spencer does so well with performing. Alongside a gruesome murder, Ridley gives us a brilliant take on agoraphobia.

There’s a telescope too in Night, a short piece with Tyler Conti playing a young man who is dying, that proves haunting without any touch of the supernatural. 

Dismemberment and exploitation, horror and fantasy are all combined. And there are laughs too, including a twisted childhood prank in Chihuahua that is downright bizarre. Another strong example (with Grace Hogg-Robinson’s excellent performance) is Zarabooshka; a “shrivel-free” character’s imagination consoles and disturbs by turns. 

Finding great storytelling

From poetic snippets like Snow and River to longer pieces with “terrible things” in a world gone mad, the stories destabilise expectations as well as entertain. 

Flights into fantasy can switch off an audience. Credit to Green and many of her cast for holding fast to the writing and making the pieces so engaging: Rachel Bright in Gators, Mirren Mack in Wound and Steve Furst in Performance with the same aim – gripping an audience and not letting go.

Standing out, not just because of its longer duration, Eclipse serves as a brilliant showcase for Mike Evans. A self-conscious exercise in storytelling, it’s a macabre tale with wonderful characters. Society has broken down – again – and “old world problems” come alongside cups of tea and creepy cravats. The twisted parallel with the Coronavirus (it’s the young who are infected here) shows Ridley’s wicked streak and creates tension.

The fecundity of Ridley’s creativity is remarkable but it is a matter of quality as well as quantity. Alongside post offices and jacket potatoes, Ridley combines strong observation, a powerful sense of community (albeit frequently a mob) and recognisable geography to ground his brand of incredible. 

It’s a pet theory of mine that Ridley is the playwright of his generation who will be looked at in the future. That this collection, made under far from ideal conditions, is so consistently strong makes The Beast Will Rise a major achievement.

Posted online from 2 April 2020


“Vincent River” at the Park Theatre

This welcome revival of Philip Ridley’s play from the year 2000 benefits from the sound direction of Robert Chevara. Confident with the superb storytelling, Chevara gives the text space, expertly judging time for vivid images to linger. Elements of a mystery story in this tale of an encounter between a bereaved mother and an enigmatic stranger add a more conventional element to the piece than is common with Ridley, and, again, Chevara makes the most of this – the plot is gripping. But Ridley’s dark imaginings are present, too, with the account of a vicious hate crime and the grief at its aftermath portrayed with startling originality.

Louise Jameson and Thomas Mahy take the roles of Anita and Davey, connected by the murder of Vincent. As the frequently angry mourning mother, Jameson is superb, conveying a moving, mounting pain as the play progresses. She’s initially suspicious of Davey’s motives for seeking her out, and the tension between the two is riveting. In this enigmatic role, Mahy seems a little trapped by his accent and doesn’t fully explore the dangerous eroticism of the character – Ridley’s suggestions of precocious sexuality are disturbing – yet the performance is full of nervous energy and always exciting, especially with the expert unravelling of his secrets.

Thomas Mahy
Thomas Mahy

The ideas about bodies, families, and memory – each so poetically conveyed – make Ridley’s writing the star of the show. An obsession with geography, with descriptions of places and their history, creates a visceral sense of East London and community. Toxic relationships battle with affection and romance throughout. Ridley’s descriptions of desire and the body, with such a tangible sense of fragility arising from the violence and illness in the play, are brilliant. Recounting trauma is common enough in theatre, but the stories Ridley’s protagonists tell each other have a therapeutic quality of intense emotion. A “mosaic of hands” in an artwork described by Davey might be a metaphor for how Ridley works. The result is a play of peculiar power.

Until 14 April 2018


Photos by David Monteith Hodge

“Angry” at Southwark Playhouse

Courtesy of the estimable playwright Philip Ridley, these six monologues make for an inimitable night of theatre. There may well be a theme to Angry – it isn’t rage as such, since the emotions we watch and experience are legion, but what really unites each scene is startling writing and superb acting.

The monologues range in subject matter and the characters are diverse. At first, the audience is harangued and confronted by inexplicable fury. Next there’s an upbeat self-motivation speech. The language is poetic, with an ear for contemporary slogans. Both scenes urge us to “participation” – demanding responses from us with disconcerting direct addresses. But it’s Ridley’s magical imagination and skill at story telling that draws us in, taking us next into a dystopian future of bombs, riots… and severed heads on a dancefloor. From a first sexual encounter, to the memories of a character about to die – all human life is here. The imagery is vivid, the humour pitch black and the emotions visceral.

Bringing such accomplished scripts to the stage, director Max Lindsay creates an intense atmosphere from the moment an audience enters. The two actors pace around a shallow pit of a stage – the only time they are together – ready for confrontation. Lindsay has given the text the close study it deserves: every line is considered and, as a result, the performances are flawless. From near constant shouting (let’s not forget how technically difficult that is), there’s masterful comedy and emotions turning on a word. And knowing that both actors, Georgie Henley and Tyrone Huntley, learn it all and then alternate in performance, is quite simply breath-taking. It’s hard to praise this show enough.

Until 10 March 2018


“Dark Vanilla Jungle” at Theatre N16

Here’s a chance to see a great play by one of the finest writers around. Philip Ridley’s nightmarish nativity tale is an 80-minute monologue of consummate storytelling that’s not for the faint hearted. Second Sons Theatre Company’s production can be viewed as a summons to explore the darkest of subject matter – you have been warned.

As with another of Ridley’s short plays, Tonight With Donny Stixx, this is an intimate encounter with a disturbed, taboo-breaking youngster. As an examination into sexism, too, given Ridley’s ripe imagination, the result is one of toxic potency. It’s a huge role for Emily Thornton as Angela. A troubled childhood as “an invisible” abandoned by parents, a horrific, sexually abusive relationship, then a fantastical – and repulsive – breakdown and a crime are all mixed together. Thornton conveys her character’s unbalanced naivety well, her make-believing even better, and has a go with the themes of “camouflage” that excite Ridley. If there’s a shortcoming, some of the wicked humour is missed, but this is a performance to be proud of.

Samson Hawkins’ direction is unflinching, the staging bravely minimal. Andrea’s confused ideas about gender roles, including a flirtation with the language of fundamentalism, voice fears that many leave unspoken. It can’t be stressed enough that this is queasy stuff. But a play this audaciously florid, with a production that does it justice, is a challenge to an audience that should be accepted.

Until 31 March 2017


Photo copyright Second Sons

“Killer” at Shoreditch Town Hall

Here’s a combination to die for: a favourite writer, Philip Ridley, with one of the most exciting directors around, Jamie Lloyd. It’s a team that makes sense, full of irreverence and a keen intelligence. I’m guessing Lloyd is a long-term fan, excited by the chance to direct a revival of Ridley’s first hit, The Pitchfork Disney, alongside this latest piece. Killer is a short work, with a touch more whimsy than we might expect, but Ridley’s brilliant lyricism and imagination are in full flow. Using clever ‘binaural’ headphones, worn by the audience throughout, adds an immersive angle that should increase the show’s appeal even further.

The piece is a trilogy of tales of the unexpected; the theme of killing is loosely applied – metamorphosis just as much a focus, with people changing both consciously and miraculously. From gangland initiations, mass murderers and a man on the run from a psychopath, it’s Ridley’s inimitable humour that excites. The way he plays with genres shows a skill that many aspire to. Making the most basic stuff of fiction original again, the insane sounds sensible and nightmares funny. The voices we hear in all three monologues are from John MacMillan. We only get to see him twice, crouched over as we enter the first basement space, and a glimpse of him as a desperate man in the finale, but the voices he creates in our head complement the vivid imagery of the text. Technology aside, Macmillan’s performance is astonishing.

With a script this strong and this well delivered you might question the need for the headphones and a damp basement location that smells a bit. Yet the technology works well and is well used, with admirable restraint. Combined with pitch-black darkness and spooky lighting (Azusa Ono), there are genuinely scary moments – it’s good to have someone to hold hands with. Even odder is half hearing, over your headphones, a room full of people laughing like drains at some very funny lines as our author applies the admirable art of allusive alliteration. Ridley’s writing is strong enough to immerse us all by itself.

Until 8 April 2017


Photo by Matt Humphrey

“Tonight with Donny Stixx” at the Bunker Theatre

Eighty minutes is a long time for a monologue. Holding an audience and taking them on a journey for such a span is an awe-inspiring feat. And with a storyteller like Philip Ridley, accompanied by a faultless performance from Sean Michael Verey and aided by director David Mercatali, this twisted tale is one not to miss.

Donny Stixx is a teenage magician. No secret is made of the fact that he is unstable and it’s soon clear he has committed an atrocious crime. But we’re told to expect the unexpected and Ridley’s imagination prevents any predictability. Cleverly, Donny isn’t an unsympathetic character. There’s the hope the boy might be as talented as he is delusional, a wish cruelly dismantled. Ridley’s peculiar brand of humour is central here. “What’s funny?” puzzles Donny. Harsh (bad) jokes are bravely played with, raising questions, teasing and probing the audience.

Dealing with such a downright scary character needs a fine balance that Verey masters. Fanaticism and some frighteningly convincing panic attacks aren’t easy to watch. There’s an array of voices – family, neighbours and his unfortunately unglamorous assistant – all cleverly delivered. The mix of intrigue and sympathy is well managed.

Ridley has a light touch when it comes to contemporary questions. Internet trolls play a part, as do the cult of celebrity and art as therapy. Where some might hammer at these themes, Ridley never loses the focus of telling a story. Taking us into the mind of Donny Stixx may not be pleasant, but it’s an unforgettable trip.

Photo by Savannah Photographic


Until 3 December 2016

“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