Review: Moonfleece, Pleasance

Philip Ridley’s youth-focused Moonfleece receives a sprightly revival from Lidless Theatre at the Pleasance

Is it London if there’s isn’t at least a couple of Philip Ridley plays in the offing?! Hot on the heels of Angry in Southwark and with Vincent River now on at the Park, Lidless Theatre are reviving his 2010 play Moonfleece at North London’s Pleasance Theatre.

I saw Moonfleece at Rich Mix as a baby blogger back in 2010 at a time when I didn’t know what a Philip Ridley was. And it probably actually served as an ideal entrée into his oeuvre as it is considerably less formally challenging than much of his other work. But though ostensibly written for young people, it is no less thought-provoking in the treatment of its issues. Continue reading “Review: Moonfleece, Pleasance”

Review: Angry, Southwark Playhouse

“What are you looking at?”

On the one hand, you want to be supporting efforts to take a fresh look at gender in our theatres. On the other, you want there to be clarity and real understanding about what is being done. A big selling point of Philip Ridley’s Angry, a set of six monologues, is that they’ve been written to be gender-neutral and depending on the night you go, they’ll be performed by a man or a woman.    

Admirable an enterprise as it is, the term gender-neutral feels like a misnomer though. For the roles are still firmly gendered as variously performed by Georgie Henley and Tyrone Huntley. So in the same way that the Bridge Theatre or the Young Vic whacks up an all-genders sign right next that for the gents or ladies, it is missing the point in not moving to a place that is actually free of the construct of gender. Continue reading “Review: Angry, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Radieuse Vermine, Leicester Square

“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.  Continue reading “Review: Radieuse Vermine, Leicester Square”

Review: Tonight with Donny Stixx, Bunker

“The boy with tricks…”

New venue The Bunker has been rather canny with the programming for its opening season – opting for a couple of Edinburgh hits to ease their way into the public consciousness before giving new British musical Muted its debut. Skin A Cat opened eyes as they opened their doors last month and now it is the turn of Philip Ridley’s similarly arresting Tonight with Donny Stixx

The inimitable characteristics of Ridley’s writing are as complex as Sondheim’s magisterial musical theatre and equally, they respond to creatives who are well-versed in his ways. So regular Ridley director David Mercatali is at the helm of this monologue, (a kind of sibling to Dark Vanilla Jungle) with Sean Michael Verey performing, following on from their collaboration on Radiant Vermin, which also starred DVJ’s Gemma Whelan. Continue reading “Review: Tonight with Donny Stixx, Bunker”

Review: Karagula, Styx

“He had no way of knowing it would get so out of control”

Full disclosure – I saw a preview of Karagula, one which lasted until 11pm and so you may rightly assume that it left me disgruntled. But I’m my own worst enemy sometimes, I’m not the biggest fan of Philip Ridley when he’s erring on the fractured narrative side and I had been warned. But Radiant Vermin was so good, Mercury Fur shines brightly in the memory, and Ridley’s own poetry had left me very well inclined towards him when news of this new production broke.

Mounted by D.E.M. Productions and PIGDOG in a location initially kept secret but now revealed as Styx, a converted ambulance station in Tottenham Hale, Karagula is a wildly ambitious thing, claiming to be one of the largest productions ever mounted Off-West-End. And in some ways, you can see it, the attention to detail in some of the costumes, the sheer sweep of the universes that it covers, the audacity of the satire attempted on dissolute Western behaviour patterns. Continue reading “Review: Karagula, Styx”

Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse

“We’re privileged to welcome you here”

Something a bit different for a Sunday but definitely worthwhile, Refugees Welcome saw a curated collection of performances exploring the themes of displacement, exodus and the humanitarian disaster of the refugee crisis through the medium of theatre, comedy and poetry. Organised by David Mercatali in support of Calais Action and all their advocacy work as well as aid support for displaced people in camps and hotspots across Europe, it proved a powerful programme of thought-provoking work.

For me, it was most fascinating to how consider how theatre in particular responds to contemporary crises, the speed of response somewhat limited by form, the nature of response dictated by swift-changing news agendas. So the excerpt from Anders Lustgarten’s 2015 play Lampedusa, performed by Louise Mai Newberry and the playwright, felt horribly like last year’s news because we’re not being still confronted with the images of overcrowded boats crossing the Med. But the snippet of Tess Berry-Hart’s Cargo, soon to be seen at the Arcola, reminded us that this is not a problem that is going away, and that (certain) theatres are not shying away from. Continue reading “Review: Refugees Welcome, Southwark Playhouse”

Re-review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre

“Enough is never enough…”

Just a quickie for this return of a show that ranked 6th out of the 304 that I saw last year, Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin. Metal Rabbit and Supporting Wall’s production remains an absolute corker as it dissects the contemporary property market and all the societal baggage that goes with it in the most inimitable of ways. This revival returns to the Soho Theatre ahead of a trip to New York but finds itself in the upstairs space rather than the main house, which is a bit of a shame as it doesn’t work quite as effectively here, though ’tis only a minor quibble.

My original review can be read here and much remains true about David Mercatali’s excellent production. There’s added piquancy now in the casting of Scarlett Alice Johnson (a replacement for Gemma Whelan who sadly had to withdraw) as she’s the IRL partner of Sean Michael Verey and so their chemistry is fascinating to behold as their couple submit to the machinations of Debra Baker’s ‘helper’. Definitely recommended whether you caught it last year or no.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 28th May, then transfers to 59E59 Theatres, New York

Review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre

“I want to do it Ollie. I want more things. Better things.”

The struggles of home ownership seem to be emerging as one of the most popular themes of new plays for early 2015 (Game at the Almeida, Deposit at the Hampstead downstairs) but top of the pile is Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin, a highly hilarious and hugely successful sidestep towards the mainstream but one which sacrifices nothing of the unique worldview that marks him as one of our most thought-provoking playwrights. Almost custom-designed to fit into that much abused term ‘darkly comic’, the play probes mercilessly into the depths of human nature in asking how far would we go in order to get our dream home. 

As it turns out, Jill and Ollie – energetic, enthusiastic, expecting – will go to some lengths indeed, making a deal not quite with the devil but with the fairy godmother-like Miss Dee instead, to accept a free home in a scuzzy area with the hope of renovating it, tipping the locale over into up-and-coming status and spearheading a property boom. So far so Saturday Night Takeaway but as with Ant and Dec, there’s a catch (and it is not just their personalities). The young couple quickly find out that that the speediest way to do up their new house is to harness the “radiance” that comes from killing the vermin around them, namely the homeless people from the neighbouring wasteground.  Continue reading “Review: Radiant Vermin, Soho Theatre”

Review: Piranha Heights, Old Red Lion

“Stay out of my sight cos you’re likely to light my fuse”

South of the river, Philip Ridley’s natural home is the Southwark Playhouse but up north, it is the Old Red Lion that has proved an ideal fit as a series of revivals there continues with Piranha Heights. The warped uniqueness of his apocalyptic worldview is well suited to the claustrophobic intimacy that can be generated in this Angel pub theatre, under the new artistic directorship of Stewart Pringle, and this D.E.M. Productions take on this 2008 play is no exception.

There’s anger here, elemental fury that literally shakes the walls of Cécile Trémolières’ inventive set as the responsibilities that one generation owes to the next are explored and exploded, and repeated as the next ones come along. The impact of parental legacies – both emotional in the psychological damage they can inflict, and physical in the passing on of property and effects – make this a fantastical yet gripping theatrical experience under Max Barton’s direction. Continue reading “Review: Piranha Heights, Old Red Lion”

Review: Ghost from a Perfect Place, Arcola

“No-one has the ability to laugh at their misfortunes like the women of the East End”

I wish I liked Philip Ridley’s work more than I admire it. He has, as one of the characters here says “a remarkable way of looking at things” and his commitment to the uniqueness of his dramatic worldview is certainly impressive, it’s just that I don’t always find that I get it or that I even want to. Yet time and time again I go back to his plays as when it does work, it can have an enormous power (cf Mercury Fur).

With the slow but steady establishment of his reputation, many of his earlier works have been popping up in recent years in new productions but it still surprising to learn that this is the first revival of Ghost from a Perfect Place which dates from 1994. Somehow pre-empting and thereby predicting the rise of girl power (think Spice Girls) and gangster loving (think Lock Stock…), it holds a real fascination, if not genuine feeling. Continue reading “Review: Ghost from a Perfect Place, Arcola”