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GHOST FROM A PERFECT PLACE – Arcola Theatre, London.

53a9a2606cf7e4931c0740ea-770ed400b49b1266ad41180e0a30b1e2“Once, long ago, I was born in a paradise called Bethnal Green.”

Ghost From A Perfect Place moves so rapidly from laugh out loud comedy to dark scenes and characters that the contrast is as engaging as it is disturbing.

It is filled with Philip Ridley’s usual brand of in your face characters. Former East End “business man” Travis Flood (Michael Feast), returning to his old haunt to find his territory has been taken over by a very different kind of gang, reminisces about his previous life with Torchie – Bethnal Green born and bred – before her granddaughter Baby Rio and the ‘Disciples’ of Saint Donna descend to wreak havoc on Travis’s old turf.

Sheila Reid as Grandmother Torchie is perfectly cast. Her inane stories, mixed with real heartbreak and the funniest argument over a biscuit ever seen, have the audience in the stitches. The battle between fantasy and reality runs through the play: Should Mrs Sparks keep on the rose-tinted glasses that make her idolise the ‘heydays’ and Travis Flood?

With imagery of comets, gold tornados, and a towering bonfire, Ridley’s vivid language shines a light on the grotesque world underneath. The cult nature of the piece lies mostly with the girl gang. Matching wigs, clothes and a miracle story, it’s difficult not to be taken in at times by their new vision of the world of “Queen Kongs” and sisters not needing men to define their lives.

Ridley’s characters usually have one thing in common, they leave you horrified but struggling to look away. Rachel Redford’s Miss Kerosene, however, lacks some of the charisma that makes Ridley’s characters, no matter how disgusting, so intensely watchable. Kerosene falls short and her sudden rage feels unnecessary rather than frightening. It is no wonder Flood’s not afraid of these girls taking over his street, and that presumably is not the desired outcome.

The chaos conjured by Ridley’s play works brilliantly in the space; the burnt flat, sooty windows and the orange glow that covers the stage is well designed by Anthony Lamble and Malcolm Rippeth and fits well in the Arcola Theatre. It is the ideal setting for his wonderfully insane breed of writing.

Ridley’s masterful skill for creating terrifying and shocking endings is definitely present in Ghost From A Perfect Place. Flood’s final confession coupled with the extraordinary glow from the bonfire burning outside the window contrasting with Torchie’s naivety, positive attitude and acceptance of the situation will leave you shell-shocked.

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Reviewed 15/09/14

By Joanna Trainor

11th Sep – 11th Oct 2014
Arcola Theatre, London, E8.

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