by Wendy Haines
You don’t go and see a Philip Ridley play if you want to cultivate your faith in humanity. This is the kind of play where there’s no one to root for and your concept of morality is toyed with – a sobering experience with a drunken plot.
Ridley is a playwright known for pushing way beyond reality simply because it’s boring not to, which I can respect. Radiant Vermin is a solid example of how he breaks into fantasy to navigate a social issue, in this case housing and gentrification, and runs a marathon with a metaphor.
Some of the writing is a little heavy handed for my taste, perhaps yours as well, but there’s a remarkable post-show haze that comes from being swept up in something so absurd, fantastical and cruel. It all makes sense until somebody asks you about it, and then you find you can’t believe what you’re actually saying.
Ollie and Jill are trapped in the drip tray of the housing market, baby on the way, until the charismatic and authoritative Miss Dee offers them a dream home. The catch is they must renovate it themselves, and that’s where their descent into moral deprivation begins. A chance break-in leads them to discover that the blood of the homeless will miraculously transform their home into a domestic paradise. The solution to all their class ambitions lies in the serial murder of the homeless, and that’s a sacrifice they and others are willing to make.
A religious thread is cleverly tied through this play; Jill clings to her faith as the base of her goodness while exploiting it to entrap their victims. It doesn’t take a theological scholar to figure out who Miss Dee is supposed to be with her tempting and soliciting. Ollie and Jill’s Macbethian guilt manifests in a fear of damnation, not in regret of their actions. It’s a subtle criticism of our kneejerk association of religion with morality, though that’s probably just my interpretation.
There’s an unusual wit successfully threaded through the performance, it keeps you on your toes, but it doesn’t distract from the integrity of the message. The performers are slick, direction is playful and the birthday party scene (valiantly split between two) showcases some brilliantly insipid dialogue between neighbouring frenemies. This is a piece you’ll want to see if you enjoy speculative fiction, difficult questions and committed concept narratives. I should warn you now though, there’s a bit of that audience interaction fluff which will make your eyelids twitch if you prefer your passive place in the dark.
In light of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower yesterday, discussions about the neglect of affordable housing and the homeless will be rearing their heads. The sad truth is that homeless people dying to prop up privileged communities is no metaphor, it is a fact of gentrification in London.