Dark Vanilla Jungle
Reviewed – 6th November 2017
“the force and passion of the acting, ensures Dark Vanilla Jungle is a powerful hour and a half of intimate theatre”
Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle is without question a harrowing theatre-going experience. Running at over an hour and half with no interval, the play is a screaming, hysterical punch to the audience’s gut. Chronicling a young girl’s life of abandonment, sexual abuse and eventual psychotic breakdown, it goes without saying, Dark Vanilla Jungle is not for the faint of heart.
With staging, lighting and music kept to the barest of minimums, the play consists of a single actress performing a monologue as 16 year old Andrea. Her futile attempts to find love denied to her early in life, her parents abandonment and the abuse at the hands of her boyfriend cause Andrea to suffer several psychotic episodes. Culminating in her belief that she is married to an injured comatose solider in a local hospital, the play is a tightly wound downward spiral of the human psyche.
The brutal plot and minimalist staging results in the play being entirely dependent upon its lead actress. Katie Bottoms gives a blistering performance as Andrea, able to capture the sweetness of a young child and the brutal hostility of a suffering teenager. Her portrayal leans more on the unhinged elements of Andrea’s personality; in rare moments of total lucidity, she appears to turn on her audience, shouting in the face of the poor unsuspecting front row. Coupled with such a closed in theatre space, the work creates an atmosphere of increasing claustrophobia as our protagonist’s life spins further out of control.
The play is at times episodic, tumbling from one horror to the next. However, Bottom’s visceral performance allows the audience to follow Andrea’s scattered and fragmented thoughts. Her clear attempts to inject some levity and even comedy into Andrea allows the audience to breathe easy before the story inevitably takes a turn for the worse.
There is little subtlety or symbolism in the play’s portrayal of a sexual abuse cycle. Ridley’s work leaves little to the imagination in terms of the impact that abuse is having on the protagonists psyche. The play never attempts to hide the horror of such acts of violence, and while this aspect of the work is undoubtedly difficult to watch, the lack of gratuity or mystery in it provides a clear view of what some of the most vulnerable children in society are exposed to.
The play is a hard watch. With the intensity of Bottom’s performance, the graphic nature of the content and the dark progression of plot, at times the play appears to be punishing its audience. However, the force and passion of the acting, ensures Dark Vanilla Jungle is a powerful hour and a half of intimate theatre.
Reviewed by Isabelle Boyd
DARK VANILLA JUNGLE
is at the Etcetera Theatre until 11th November