“C’est la réponse à nos prières”
Philip Ridley’s 2015 play Radiant Vermin was a vibrant and vivid response to the housing crisis that resonated strongly in both the UK (at the Soho Theatre) and the US (in its transfer to 59E59 Theaters), perhaps tapping into something of the societal dissatisfaction that has led to such political turbulence. So it is rather appropriate then that as l’élection présidentielle looks set to shake up French politics, its next move has been to be translated into French (by Louis Bernard) as Radieuse Vermine.
Directed once again by David Mercatali, assisted here by Flore Vialet, the play is currently previewing at the Leicester Square Theatre in their lounge space, ahead of playing the French Fringe Festival in Avignon in the summer. And these previews offer a striking opportunity – not just for the Francophone population in London, but for any fans of Philip Ridley (albeit with a certain proficiency in French, there aren’t any surtitles here) to revisit this play in a same but different way.
Same in that it is still Mercatali’s production – Jill and Olly may have become Fleur and Olive but they’re still excited to tell us about their swanky new house and remain only a little tiny ashamed about what they have done in order to get it. Ridley’s storytelling retains its fable-like quality which facilitates its seamless transition across borderlines, because the play isn’t so much about housing markets as it is about human behaviour and the excuses we tell ourselves to justify pushing ahead.
Joséphine Berry and Louis Bernard capture the silky affability of the couple well, full of winning smiles and self-deprecatory humour (the climactic birthday party scene is still a glorious technical masterclass in comic acting), really pushing the audience to consider how far is too far – at what point does self-interest become this toxic. There’s little subtlety to the moralising here but one might well ask where’s the tipping point between ‘La France doit être une chance pour tous’ and ‘Au nom de peuple’, between ‘everyone’ and ‘those that are like us’.
And it is different too, particularly in Floriane Andersen’s take on the mysterious Mademoiselle Luce, an altogether more contemporary and chic character than the Mary Poppins-like figure of the anglo Miss Dee who administers the housing scheme. The modernity of her presence twists the play ever so slightly towards real life, reducing just some of the twisted fairytale element and making Radieuse Vermine feel even more achingly pertinent, closer to home than we’d ever admit it ought to be.