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
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