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RADIANT VERMIN – Soho Theatre, London.

Darkly funny Ö Gemma Whelan (Jill), Amanda Daniels (Mrs Dee) and Sean Michael Verey (Ollie) in RadiaOllie 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.  With the general election just 6 weeks away, Philip Ridley’s  viciously funny satire on materialism, entitlement and the housing bubble is perfectly timed.

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 each mode of story-telling perfectly clear.

Amanda Daniels adds a slightly sinister streak to her benevolence as the estate agent Miss Dee – quite a contrast to her later appearance as homeless woman, Kay. As Kay, Daniels 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 between Ollie and Jill’s life and real lives are uncomfortable to acknowledge, particularly for anyone who “just wants to get the kitchen done…And the bathroom,” or anyone who knows how one want soon leads to another. I don’t think anyone could leave with their own “wants” unquestioned.

The empty white set (designed by William Reynolds) provides an unobtrusive backdrop to the proceedings and an other-worldliness, severing us from any sense of naturalism.  While it looks simplistic, there is something unnervingly clinical about it, which ties in well with the themes of the play.  The absence of furniture and props may seem very stark, but it gives the actors free rein to use their physicality to conjure in our minds locations and objects – it also enables them to move from scene to scene without losing momentum.

Radiant Vermin’s pièce de résistance has to be the birthday party at the end.  Throughout the play each of Ollie and Jill’s new neighbours are introduced 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 an average actor might be able to sustain for perhaps a minute, but that these two keep up – at a seemingly accelerating pace – for at least ten minutes.  A true demonstration of comic timing at its finest.  It has to be seen to believed.

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Reviewed 16/03/2015

By Gail Bishop

10th March – 12th April 2015
Soho Theatre, London, W1D 3NE. 

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