Radiant Vermin at the Soho
Playwright Philip Ridley casts his perennially amused and cynical eye over consumerism, the housing market and the ethics thereof in this fast-paced and delirious comedy. Featuring a typically oxymoronic title and visit to a bizarre dystopia, Ridley’s trademarks are here, but carried with more humour than his previous plays.
Ollie and Jill, our caricatured, idiosyncratic protagonists, regale the audience with the story of the unusual way in which they’ve climbed the property ladder. With only the blank canvas of an empty white stage and stark white lighting, the pair use mime to conjure up their world – a technique that never becomes laboured or gimmicky. The success of this is testament to the laudable skill of the actors, not least when displaying masterful physical comedy abilities Ollie recounts his altercation with an intruder, while being hurled to the floor and struggling desperately with the invisible character.
This modern Faustian tale of temptation and soul-selling would be a longer play if it weren’t for its whirlwind delivery. Comical moments melt into harrowing ones, then snap promptly back to funny. Tessellating their lines deftly between one another’s, the couple switch instantly from intoning murderous lust to cooing over their baby. It is Ridley’s ability to imbue a story with surreal menace that so befits its pertinent topic; while keeping up with the Joneses, consumerism becomes a higher priority than humanity for Ollie and Jill.
Ridley’s penchant for gore is evident in descriptions like: “I felt the grind of my blade against his spine”. More of his splendid imagery surfaces in lines such as Jill’s, who describes a guilty conscience thus: “I don’t know what it looks like but I know it has claws. It’s blue or mauve like the veins in my mum’s hands.”
Forming the play’s climax, the two main actors each take on a hefty host of characters, complete with distinct accents and conversation threads. This spirals into delirium, leaving the pair breathless. It’s a feat of spoken word and neither falters for a moment; Sean Michael Verey is fantastic as dorky pushover Ollie and Gemma Whelan is equally so as the erratic and manipulative Jill. Amanda Daniels skilfully supplies the supporting roles.
Ridley is a master of many media, one of them being poetry, and you can truly appreciate it here. The lights dim to Queen’s I Want It All. Don’t we all?
Radiant Vermin is on at Soho Theatre until 12th April 2015, for further information or to book visit here.