Tag Archives: James Dart

Radiant Vermin – 4 Stars

Vermin

Radiant Vermin

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

Radiant Vermin

Ram Jam Records until 17th September

 

 

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Review of Nell Gwynn – 4 Stars

Gwynn

Nell Gwynn

Bridewell Theatre

Reviewed – 7th December 2017

★★★★

“Wardlaw is simply charming as Nell. She easily carries the weight of the title character with ferocity, grace and always a cheeky look in her eye.”

 

Nell Gwynn is Jessica Swale’s 2015 play about the famous English actress and mistress of King Charles II. Written originally for The Globe Theatre starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw with a subsequent West End transfer starring Gemma Arterton, this amateur production directed by Roger Beaumont brings heart (if not polished professionalism) to Blackfriars.

Grace Wardlaw is simply charming as Nell. She easily carries the weight of the title character with ferocity, grace and always a cheeky look in her eye. Wardlaw will be snapped up by the West End very quickly if casting agents are paying attention. Having seen the original production, it’s not unfair to say Wardlaw gave original Nell – Mbatha-Raw a good run for her money. I can certainly see her playing Nancy in Oliver! in the not-to-distant-future.

James Dart (King Charles II) has an excellent time swanning about the palace in tights, playing at royalty, and his relationship with Nell is sweet and touching. Simon Brooke is a gorgeously camp, scene-stealing Edward Kynaston. In kimono and wig-cap, Brooke’s comic timing and physicality leave him as an audience favourite. Felix Grainger is spritely and enthusiastic as tortured playwright, John Dryden. And Valerie Antwi comes into her own in the second act playing the comical serving lady and reluctant actress, Nancy. (Although, it did feel uncomfortable that the only non-white member of the cast was a servant, particularly given the original non-white casting of Gwynn in 2015).

The show suffered from an unfortunately mistimed party above the venue, meaning quieter moments were lost in the background noise – a reminder that however good the acting, it’s often the venues that let amateur productions down.

The action takes place over several locations around London meaning the ensemble/stage hands had their work cut out for them. Scene changes were sometimes slow, but were peppered with characterisation like ensemble member Alice Boorman getting increasingly frustrated picking up Dryden’s discarded pages. Director Beaumont also provides an elaborately designed set complete with Royal Box. I felt it would have benefitted from a simpler, stripped down set with additional lighting as the combination of the set and costumes felt too busy for a small stage.

The live band led by Musical Director Jonathan Norris provided nice accompaniment in the musical numbers (particularly the catchy ‘I can dance and I can sing’), however some notes went astray as the show went on.

This show was far from perfect, but like Ms Gwynn, it had charm, wit and gusto.

 

Reviewed by TheatreFox

Photography by Richard Piwko

 

St Bride Foundation [logo]

 

Nell Gwynn

is at the Bridewell Street Theatre until 16th December

 

 

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