Here’s a question for you. Knowing how difficult it is to get on the property ladder, you are stuck on a sink estate with your spouse, and a baby on the way, what would be prepared to do to get your dream home? That, my friends, is the conundrum that faces the protagonists in “Radiant Vermin” a wickedly delightful new play that has just opened at the Soho Theatre.
Jill (Gemma Whelan) and Ollie (Sean Michael Verey) a lovely young couple are ’living on the Red Ocean Estate – not the nicest bit of town, in fact so bad there’s has been a documentary about it on the television – and hating every minute of being there. They want their unborn son, Benjy, to come into the world and be brought up in a nice home where drugs and gangs are not necessarily considered as good career choices. And then, they receive a hand-delivered letter telling them that they have been selected to take part in a new government urban regeneration scheme that involves giving a nice young couple such as themselves a run-down house in an underpopulated neighbourhood. Ollie is, not too surprisingly, suspicious and thinks it may be a scam but Jill, using the power of pregnancy to get her man to do exactly what she wants, persuades Ollie to at least check it out. They meet the mysterious Miss Dee (Amanda Daniels) who seems to know a lot about them and explains the details of the scheme, as she shows them around their new home. The two eventually sign up and set about renovating their property. Normally doing up a three bedroom, two reception with gardens and garage house would take a while, but Ollie and Jill discover an amazing and unique way to make use of readily available resources and short-cut the renovation process. Jill and ollie’s renovations have the desired effect and thanks to the Lux Lucis Atrum Nex Nemus reaction, people buy the properties next to theirs, then out further into the surrounding streets until the whole neighbourhood becomes a ‘property hot-spot’ Urban regeneration at its very best, nice people move in and the homeless disappear, talk about a win-win for everyone. Or is it?
It’s going to be really difficult to describe my feelings about this play without giving away any spoilers but I will try. Philip Ridley has written an incredibly dark story but with fabulously light and believable characters. It is impossible to dislike Jill and Ollie, no matter what they have done. They are just such a really lovely couple, in perfect synch, even finishing each other’s sentences – which is usually really irritating but in this case is so endearing – they tell their story directly to the audience explaining the why and how they renovated their home in great detail. We are their confessor and at the end they ask us to make the judgement call ourselves – would we have done the same things? Can’t speak for anyone else but I have to say ‘Heck Yes!’ I would.
Unusually, this play has not set and no props. Director David Mercatali has Jill and Ollie standing on a plain white hexagonal stage wearing the same outfit all the way through – possibly something from M&S for Ollie and Laura Ashley for Jill. The show is almost like a grown-up ‘Jackanory’ with Jill and Ollie taking us through their journey and their interactions with others using movement, expression and voice alone. I loved both characters so much. Jill, necessarily all she seems – as demonstrated in a wonderful monologue about the unfortunate plight of the homeless. Ollie, almost a henpecked husband but with a backbone of steel when the chips are down. And let us not forget the one other character that appears, Miss Dee and Amanda Daniels should be commended for the excellent portrayal of this enigmatic government official who is both mysterious and everyone’s favourite aunt at the same time. The show lasts roughly 90 minutes with no interval and I never noticed the time flying by. It wasn’t until Benjy’s birthday party – an amazing scene involving the two actors playing a dozen characters all at the same time – that I realised we were near the end.
I love plays like “Radiant Vermin” brilliantly written, fantastically staged and awesomely acted, it entertains and really makes the audience think for a moment about their own morals and standards. I heartily recommend everyone should get themselves along to see it. Now, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I have a contract for a dream home to sign.
Review by Terry Eastham
METAL RABBIT PRODUCTIONS AND SUPPORTING WALL PRESENT
BY PHILIP RIDLEY
Tue 10 Mar – Sun 12 Apr, 7.15pm (matinees Thu & Sat 3pm, Sun 5pm)
Running Time: 90mins
Age Recommendation: 14+
£10 Preview Tue 10, £17.50 (£15), matinees £15 (£12.50)
From the team behind 2013 Fringe First Award winner DARK VANILLA JUNGLE.
NOMINEE: Off West End Theatre Award – Best Director (David Mercatali for Dark Vanilla Jungle)
Time Out, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Award winner Philip Ridley.
Directed by Evening Standard Award nominee David Mercatali.
From the team behind 2013 Fringe First Award winner Dark Vanilla Jungle.
Thursday 12th March 2015