Can you ever really go back to where you came from or escape the past? That’s what Travis Flood tries to find out in Philip Ridley’s play Ghost from a Perfect Place.
Travis used to be a “Businessmen” in the East End in the 1960s and has been away for a very long time but now he is back for one last look around his old haunts. He is dressed for the occasion in his trademark outfit, shot silk suit, white shirt, black tie, gleaming shoes and a lily in his buttonhole. As he tours the old manor, he meets Rio Sparks, granddaughter of Torchie, a woman who was born with the sound of the Bow Bells in her ears and is East End through and through. In Torchie’s fire-damaged flat, there is initially some confusion over the identity of Travis but then Torchie realises who he was and gives ‘Mr Flood’ the respect he is due. Travis doesn’t remember Torchie at all. Why would he? She was just one of the many people who parted like the red sea as he walked down the road. But, as Torchie talks about the fateful year when the police closed in on Travis and his ilk, we see his remembrance grow, and there is a powerful moment as Torchie re-awakens in Travis memories he thought he had successfully suppressed. Rio returns home to meet Travis. As Torchie goes off to see her husband, Rio taunts him about the old days and some of the things she’s heard he did. Travis reacts badly to the taunting, but Rio is unimpressed and summons her own gang – The Disciples.
Two of the Disciples, Miss Sulphur (obviously in love with Rio) and Miss Kerosene (young, psychotic and hungry to oust Rio as gang leader) answer the call and Travis is now their captive, tied, gagged and apparently up the proverbial creek without a paddle. The girls are in charge, but are they? There is a lot of vindictive squabbling, mainly caused by the always close to the edge of madness Miss Kerosene. Although we don’t learn that much about the girls, we learn enough to sort of understand what has made them the people they are. The audience does however get to know Rio. Maybe too well, for this is a very mixed up young lady. We learn of her hobbies and the way she founded The Disciples – a cult gang dedicated to the memory of her mother, Saint Donna. Everything builds fast in the second act, helped by some great lighting and a gentle background score that very subtly increases the tension and leads to a couple of truly realistic and horrific scenes with a conclusion to the play that completely took me by surprise.
Superbly written, I was emotionally drained by the ending of this play. Possibly this was because I knew many of the areas mentioned – Roman Road, Victoria Park, etc – very well, but I think it was the combination of superb writing, directing and acting that made it so vivid and so real.
The first act is basically a two-hander between Torchie (Sheila Reid) and Travis (Michael Feast). These two actors turn in a fantastic performance, alternately bouncing off each other with wonderful comic timing – the biscuit scene in particular – and then describing scenes of their lives in such a vivid way the audience could ‘see’ and feel what was happening. Travis may be a thug who admits responsibility for helping to ‘strengthen’ the Bow Road flyover but he has style and as Torchie says, pizzazz. Torchie herself has an indomitable survival instinct and soldiers on with a smile and a joke no matter what life throws at her. It would be so easy to play Torchie as a bit of a cliché of an East End girl but Sheila never did this and I could have easily believed she was a product of the “Roman”.
The second act is dominated by Rio (Florence Hall), Miss Sulphur (Scarlett Brookes) and Miss Kerosene (Rachel Redford). These three are perfect together in a truly disturbing way. To look and listen to them, this was not three actresses who read a play and rehearsed it. These three were The Disciples. Rio, totally in control because of her belief in Saint Donna, Sulphur, trying to please Rio and keep Kerosene in some sort of order and Kerosene herself, uneducated, evil and without any form of control. I would have been terrified to meet any one of them in a dark alley and I pity any man that met all three together on the night of the bonfire.
This play is definitely not for the faint-hearted but is highly recommended.
Review by Terry Eastham
Ghost From a Perfect Place
By Philip Ridley
Multi award-winning playwright Philip Ridley returns to the Arcola with his contemporary classic Ghost From A Perfect Place, a scorchingly dark comedy where a monster from the past meets the monsters of the present.
Back in the swinging sixties, Travis Flood led a gang that terrorised East London. Now, after an absence of many years, he returns to find his old turf in the clutches of a new kind of gang…with a new kind of leader. Rio – ruler of a mob of girls – instantly captivates Travis with her haunting beauty. But soon a shocking story begins to emerge – one that shatters both their distorted memories.
Cast: Scarlett Brookes, Michael Feast, Florence Hall, Rachel Redford, Sheila Reid
Creatives: Director Russell Bolam, Designer Anthony Lamble, Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth, Sound Designer Richard Hammarton, Movement Director Jack Murphy, Fight Director Malcolm Ranson, Costume Supervisor Kat Smith.
Thursday 11th September to Saturday 11th October
Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm
Saturday matinee at 3.00pm
(no matinee Saturday 13 September)
Press night: Monday 15 September at 7.30pm
Tickets: £19.00 / £15.00 (concs)
Previews 11-13 September: £12.00
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Running time 2 hours (plus interval)
Recommended age 14+
Tuesday 16th September 2014