Two words: standing ovation.
It takes a monumental performance to get me on my feet at the end of a play. But Radiant Vermin has done just that. With the general election just 6 weeks away, Philip Ridley’s satire on materialism, entitlement and the housing bubble is perfectly timed.
Ollie and Jill are living on a rough housing estate and expecting their first child together. When a mysterious letter arrives making them an offer they cannot possibly refuse, they start on a path which shows just how far some people will go to own their dream home. You’ll need to put realism on hold for this one (the dialogue in the initial set up is a little contrived), but over the course of 90 minutes their trajectory takes them from need to greed with startling ease, exploring how people’s perception of “enough” changes as they get richer.
Gemma Whelan as Jill is bright and smiley, with an endearing naivety to her character – even when she become quite ruthless towards the end, she still elicits some empathy from the audience, as she just wants the best for her child. Sean Michael Verey as Ollie is a suitably geeky beta-male – everything about him suggests that he’s too nice to harm anyone. There is great on-stage chemistry between them as they lightly bicker and finish one another’s sentences. Their impersonations of their neighbours had the audience in stitches. They flip with ease between narration and acting out their story, with perfect clarity between the two.
Amanda Daniels has a slightly sinister streak to her benevolence as the estate agent Miss Dee – quite a contrast to her later appearance as homeless woman, Kay; she gives a very subtle performance which adds a chilling human dimension (she represents the true cost of what Ollie and Jill are doing) and the change of pace helps to balance out the stylistic nature of the play. The parallels with real life grow ever more uncomfortable, particularly for anyone who “just wants to get the kitchen done. And the bathroom.” and how one want soon leads to another. We are relentlessly bombarded with advertising for all the things we “want” – of course “want” is a completely artificial construct to make us buy things. I don’t think anyone could’ve left with their own “wants” unquestioned.
But the pièce de résistance has to be the birthday party at the end. Throughout the play we’ve been introduced to each of their new neighbours with little asides and impersonations: so when all of these extra people descend on the house for their son’s first birthday, we are treated to a theatrical maelstrom as Gemma Whelan and Sean Michael Verey snap between 5 or 6 characters each, with a speed and accuracy that left me breathless. The sort of thing than an average actor might be able to sustain for perhaps a minute, but that these two kept up for at least ten (at a seemingly accelerating pace) in performances to rival Kevin Bishop in Fully Committed (which I saw last year at the Menier Chocolate Factory). It has to be seen to believed.
Radiant Vermin is on until Sunday 12th April at Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London, W1D 3NE. Contains strong language and not suitable for under 14s. For tickets and more information, go to http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/radiant-vermin/