Hot on the heels of their world premiere of the extraordinary Dark Vanilla Jungle, Tobacco Factory Theatres unveil another brand new play by Philip Ridley, master of caustic yet lyrical social realism.
A co-production by Metal Rabbit and Supporting Wall, Ridley’s latest, typically provocative satire centres on a young couple offered a way out of the housing crisis – and just how far they’re prepared to go to get everything they’ve always wanted.
Steve Wright speaks to actress Gemma Whelan (best known to some as Game of Thrones’ Yara Greyjoy) and director David Mercatali.
You’ve both got previous with Philip Ridley. What keeps you coming back to him?
DM: We have an intrinsic connection. I’m just plugged into his work. The moment I start reading, I feel plugged in again. I ‘get’ it.
GW: The simple answer is Phil’s writing, which is just amazing. I had a brilliant experience with Dark Vanilla Jungle, and the offer to work with Phil and David again was too tempting to turn down! It’s also nice to be doing something very different – this is a comedy, which might come as a surprise to anyone who saw Dark Vanilla Jungle.
The play’s protagonists, Ollie and Jill, do something extreme to get their dream home. Without giving the game away, will audiences find their actions shocking?
DM: What they do is heightened, symbolic you might say. Then again, they are only doing much more directly and aggressively what many of us are doing in a much more removed and dislocated way. Will audiences be shocked? Yes. Will they find it believable? If they think about it, yes. Our instant reaction will be to separate ourselves from their actions: but really, we’re more connected to them than we’d like to believe.
What do you hope to send audiences away thinking and feeling?
DM: I hope it makes us understand how far people are prepared to go to get what they want. And how society has set us up to be like that, ultimately. The ideas that Ollie and Jill start to espouse are simply echoes of many high-level politicians and authority figures, albeit not the direct and physical actions that Ollie and Jill use to achieve these ends!
GW: People are more and more feeling the need to achieve, find success, get on the property ladder – and it’s getting harder and harder. I hope Ollie and Jill are very likeable and sympathetic – so while audiences might be shocked, I think they’ll also be drawn in to willing them to go further. If we get it right, audiences will end up feeling troubled by themselves and their own responses to what happens.
Tell us about the decision to stage the world premiere at Tobacco Factory Theatres.
DM: In a nutshell, it’s down to [TFT’s Artistic Director] Ali Robertson. He is as good an Artistic Director as it gets. His energy and passion for Tobacco Factory Theatres is infectious, and makes it a fantastic place to be.
This is Ridley’s first comedy. Does he seem as at home in this register than in the more serious vein of his other plays?GW: He’s completely at home in comedy. In fact although he’s often dealt with very dark subject matter, most of his plays are very funny – even Dark Vanilla Jungle had a lot of humour in it. We’re all really enjoying taking those comedy elements a lot further too.
Does the play exaggerate, or merely reflect contemporary reality?
GW: It does exaggerate, but in a very believable way – like Charlie Brooker’s TV show Black Mirror, it pushes some very real elements of desperation and darkness that little bit further.
Radiant Vermin is at the Brewery Theatre from Friday, February 27 to Saturday, March 7. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/detail/radiant_vermin
Pics: Anna Soderblom