At Dirty Talk, 167 Augusta Ave. Toronto, Ont.
Written by Philip Ridley
Directed by John Shooter
Set by Victoria Ius
Lighting by Davida Tkach
Sound by Tim Lindsay
Costumes by Molly Marmaduke
Cast: Marium Carvell
Radiant Vermin is Philip Ridley’s first comedy but it is full of his macabre focus on the foibles that make us human but not necessarily good humans.
The Story. Jill and Ollie, young parents of a baby boy, tell us the mysterious way they came to have a dream home and how they renovated it. They were chosen by a mysterious woman named Miss Dee to be given the house with the responsibility to renovate and pay all the bills. It needs extensive renovations. Ollie is sceptical but Jill is eager to have the house and renovate. Jill knows just how to decorate each room—she wants the kitchen for example to look like the model kitchen in Selfridges—the London department store. Jill and Ollie learn it’s easier than they thought.
In their first night in the house Jill and Ollie are disturbed by noises in the kitchen. Ollie goes to investigate; finds a homeless man in his kitchen; gets into a tussle and kills him. Both he and Jill are mortified at what happened but then realize that the kitchen has transformed into their perfect kitchen—the one they saw it in Selfridges. They begin to put clues together and realize that killing homeless people gets a room renovated like magic, and so it begins. Jill and Ollie develop an insatiable need for more. As a line in the play says, “enough is never enough.”
The point of it all is that Jill and Ollie will be responsible for improving their house which will attract buyers for the other houses on their small street. Property values will go up. Everybody wins. But with their insatiable thirst for more, Jill and Ollie are always on the lookout for more homeless people even if they have to lure them to their home. But there is that niggling problem of murder, and how a person’s character is affected when the rules aren’t followed and how a person can talk themselves out of guilt if there is something else more intoxicating, such as acquiring stuff.
The Production. How does one present such a quirky, dark play? If you are John Shooter, the director, you find a funky place to do the play. In this case it’s Dirty Talk a kind of art gallery space in a basement on Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market.
We are greeted with a tray of glasses of fruit punch complete with festive umbrellas and small boxes of Smarties. In Victoria Ius’s set design a neon sign saying DREAM HOMES flashes over the entrance to the performance space. Inside the walls are covered with yellow “caution” tape suggesting whatever we are to be cautious about is dangerous somehow. Brown paper is behind that. There is a heavy plastic opaque curtain across the room.
When the performance is about to begin the curtain is drawn aside and a long white room dazzles into sight at the end of which is the façade of white, neat-looking house.
The cast is directed to assume a sense of heightened artifice to present this. The dialogue of the three actors comes out almost without inflection, like a torrent of words and instructions to each other but with few details of a personality other than bubbly. Ollie is played by Jonas Widdifield with a head of wild hair, a sense of urgency that keeps getting ramped up, and a sense that his world is unravelling quickly. Julie Tepperman plays Jill with wide-eyed innocence but will not give in to stopping buying everything she wants. Jill wants more of everything she has now. She’s never satisfied. As matters go off the rails both Widdifield and Tepperman sound frantic and the urgency gets more and more frenzied.
Marium Carver is a commanding Miss Dee who can manipulate anyone into thinking what she wants them to thing. When she tells them news they don’t want to hear Carver gives it with a smile and offhanded way of looking at things. It’s not quite a putt down but it does have its own force.
Comment. Philip Ridley is a British playwright with a dark sense of humour, an eye for the macabre, who focuses on the outsider or the marginalized. In Pitchfork Disney he wrote of a brother and sister traumatised by life, self-imprisoned in their hole of an apartment and afraid of the world. In Karagula he created a dystopian world. In Radiant Vermin Ridley writes about homelessness, greed, consumerism. I think he’s certainly making a statement of how people consider the homeless—vermin. The play reveals why they are radiant. Ridley is an unsettling playwright. I love his quirky perception and focus.
The play certainly isn’t for everyone. But I would recommend it to anyone who likes their theatre with bite and a challenge. To give you an idea….. Last year John Shooter produced a play called Pitchfork Disney and there was a character in it wearing full leather with a leather covering over his head and face, with holes for his eyes, nose and mouth. He would not be out of place at an S and M party.
Fast forward to the opening night of Radiant Vermin. I was waiting in the ‘lobby’ of the place when a tall man came in with his head completely covered in a black mask with only holes for his eyes, nose and mouth. His jeans had neat rips in them. He went into the theatre and came out a little while later and left. I thought this guy was in the play. I didn’t flinch. He was the landlord.
Radiant Vermin is for people who won’t flinch when they see a guy with his head and face covered by a black mask.
Precisely Peter Productions Presents:
Opening: March 2, 2017.
Closes: March 19, 2017.
Cast: 3; 1 man, 2 woman.
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.