The pre-show for this production of Dark Vanilla Jungle comprises Andrea (Emily Thornton) pacing the performance space and glaring, albeit nonchalantly, at audience members as they arrive. This was, ultimately, far more surreal than it was intimidating – indeed, as others were finding their seats they scarcely (if at all) noticed that they were being watched. A sense of the observers themselves being observed became more noticeable during the performance proper, supported by Philip Ridley’s script that included rhetorical questions asked of the audience, as though checking we were still on board.
Thornton has a clear and measured delivery, engaging the audience with a largely likeable character that veers from one emotional extreme to the other. Her Andrea is on top of the world at one moment, only to suddenly crash and believe this to be the worst day of her life to date. Only one thing is certain in this production: there’s never a dull moment in a tale about a creative and lively mind who acts on impulse and deals with the consequences at a later stage.
It is the details of the said consequences that seems to take up the bulk of Andrea’s exertions both in a performance that got more physical than I would have expected for a monologue and in terms of the narrative itself. The ramifications of comparatively fleeting pleasures drag on disproportionately, but there is nothing to be gained from dismissing Andrea as someone who simply shouldn’t have strived to achieve what she wanted. That is rather like criticising those who save up for months on end to go on a fortnight-long holiday.
That said, what she strives for, or seems to strive for, without giving too much away, is morally dubious. Had she been more clued up about what was really happening to her and/or had a friend who understood that a darker layer sits behind all the nightclubbing and copious amounts of alcohol, her story may well have turned out very different. A play with that narrative would be better called Protect Me From What I Want. As it is, it is bleakness with a capital B. Interestingly, some surprisingly traditionalist views pour forth, such as “Men drive, women get driven” – and I remain unsure whether Andrea really does have a partly outmoded outlook or if she is merely using male chauvinism to her personal advantage.
It’s not just Andrea that the audience is introduced to – Thornton voices Andrea’s mother, her landlord, her friends and her sexual partners, though with them all characterised via Andrea’s perspective, the play has, in essence, a partially unreliable narrator. She is able to distinguish objective fact from subjective wishes at times, but more often than not heightened emotions overtake rational thinking, even if the play appears to assert that this is mostly because Andrea is coming under undue pressure.
For the most part, Thornton’s powerful performance mercifully stops short of melodrama, and only in the dying moments of the play is Andrea’s response to life’s harsh realities a tad overkill. The sound effects were appropriate to the narrative but in my humble opinion added nothing to the general atmosphere. There isn’t, despite a densely depressing script, a relentless drive towards misery, and neither is this just a stream of consciousness. It’s an intense and intriguing experience.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Andrea keeps getting asked if she’s ashamed.
Ashamed of what she did to the soldier.
Of what she did to the baby.
But Andrea’s not ashamed at all.
And she wants to tell you why…
A beautiful, breathtaking drama about a young girl’s quest for the perfect family & home revealing a biting commentary on abuses of power in a patriarchal society.
Written by Philip Ridley
Directed by Samson Hawkins
Produced by Jamie Rowlands
Dark Vanilla Jungle
21st to 31st March 2017