Ram Jam Records
Reviewed – 13th September 2018
“a fable for modern times but with an age-old message: be careful what you wish for”
We’re in the back room of a pub, candles flickering on cabaret tables under the dim lights. A bare stage, empty of set and props, gives no hint as to what is to come. We barely notice, at first, the two characters around which Philip Ridley’s “Radiant Vermin” centre, as they wander into the space. Were it not for the fact they are carrying their one-year old son we’d think they were just looking for their seat. Instead they head straight for the stage and introduce themselves. They are Ollie and Jill and they want to tell us about their dream home. All affability and charm they feel the urge to share with us some of the horrible things they did to get it. Through wholesome smiles they warn us we might find their story shocking, but they are “good people”. They did it all for their baby.
James Dart and Joy Bowers, as the couple, immediately draw us into Ridley’s outrageous and provocative drama. Playful but vicious, this very black comedy is a meditation on how far we will go to satisfy our materialistic greed. We’re not invited to judge them; in fact, we are almost made complicit. Their story begins with the arrival of the Mephistophelian Miss Dee, supposedly from a government-led housing department, who offers them a brand-new house. Jennifer Oliver brilliantly feeds just the right amount of supernatural menace into her eagerness to get the couple to agree to an offer that is literally ‘too good to be true’. Though there is a catch. The house is a bare shell and the renovation is down to the new occupants.
When Ollie accidentally kills a homeless intruder one night, the kitchen is miraculously transformed into the one of their dreams, which triggers the realisation that for each vagrant murdered, another room of the house is renovated. The speed with which this well-founded couple persuade themselves that new furnishings are worth a human life is staggering. The play could easily be construed as a rather blunt indictment of greed, another of Ridley’s rants against a godless society; but we are on subtler ground here and the sheer absurdity of the premise gives it a sharp comic edge.
Yet what is even sharper are the performances. The virtuosity with which James Dart and Joy Bowers deliver the quick-witted dialogue is what makes this piece thrillingly entertaining. Dart perfectly captures the disturbing malleability of the human spirit as he shapes his morals to justify his deeds and satisfy the needs of Jill – the Lady Macbeth figure brilliantly portrayed by Bowers. They are both gambling with the devil, and the two actors chillingly, yet hilariously, fall into the trap of not knowing when to quit.
Erica Miller’s fast paced direction keeps us, and the actors, on their toes throughout. This is a fable for modern times but with an age-old message: be careful what you wish for. But the many layers go way beyond that even. Like shattered glass it reflects many angles of today’s consumerist society in which, for some, having everything you could ever wish for is not enough anymore. Are we living in a world where decent people, through a desperate materialism, are able to drown their conscience in such drunken logic?
But Ridley’s polemics aside, this is a compelling production in a little gem of a venue which, although slightly off the beaten track, is well worth covering that extra ground to get to.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Erica Miller
Ram Jam Records until 17th September