Pros: A biting and very funny critique of Western values.
Cons: The high-energy delivery can be a bit exhausting.
Some things are universal aren’t they? The need for a home, the need to nurture and protect one’s family, the need to keep up with the Joneses. They are as universal in London as they are in Avignon, where this French translation of Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin transfers next. And while the Avignonnais may be slightly less au fait than Londoners with the horrors of mega-basements and other unneighbourly quests for perfect lebensraum, I daresay they will still recognise the themes of urban regeneration, entitlement, consumerism and gentrification, all tackled by Ridley with a knowing black wit.
Fleur and Oliv introduce themselves to the audience with beaming smiles and brio. Life is good; they live with their beautiful baby, Benjamin, in their “maison de rêve”, their dream home. And if, as they acknowledge sheepishly, they’ve had to do one or two horrible things for the sake of their dream home, well they’re sure we’ll understand.
By “horrible things” they mean killing homeless people. This is obviously the darkest satire, but what’s really shocking is that it doesn’t seem half as far-fetched as it should do, in a London where non-violent social cleansing and the privatisation of public space are all too common. Ridley brilliantly exposes the consumerist equation which has to balance. Fleur and Oliv can have an ever more lovely home, a gleaming new neighbourhood and the Jamais Assez Shopping Centre, but only if the local down-and-outs have less: less security, less… life! I can have more and more cheap clothes, but only if the child workers of Bangladesh have fewer fire extinguishers in their factories. So yes, we probably will understand, because we’re all at it.
The play is presented on a completely bare stage. Overhead, bare bulbs hang from the ceiling, ready to flicker in a hammy fashion whenever a murder takes place. Other than that, it’s down to Joséphine Berry as Fleur, and Louis Bernard as Oliv, to create a sense of place through mime and physical theatre: Oliv jogs up and down the non-existent stairs, Fleur opens the non-existent fridge door. In fact both give jaw-dropping physical performances. In a party scene they take on about twelve different characters between them, jumping from person to person, adopting distinctive voices and mannerisms for each character. The nerve-jangling chaos of the party rises to fever pitch as the two actors move ever faster and more frantically. It is very impressive and very funny, if a little bit shrill towards the end.
Floriane Andersen also gives two lovely performances, as the mysterious Madame Luz and then, trusting and vulnerable as Laure, a homeless girl who surrenders, like the Little Matchgirl to a brighter death. Andersen’s characters feel somehow more Anglo-Saxon than those of Berry and Bernard. Their bright, exaggerated, very expressive comedic style is great fun, perfectly pitched and feels very French; recognisable from a thousand non-naturalistic TV sitcoms.
As the story comes to a close, Fleur and Oliv face the reality that even greater (human) sacrifices will have to be made if they want to continue up the property ladder and do right by little Benjamin and his baby brother. It’s a dilemma. Not so much a moral one as a logistical one, but then they realise….the children can help! It’s a bleakly comical, yet utterly logical note on which to end. Of course we co-opt our children to our values and of course we teach them to behave as we do. So if we want it all, and we want it now, then why on earth wouldn’t they?
Author: Philip Ridley
Translator: Louis G Bernard
Director: David Mercatali
Booking Until: 29 April 2017
Box Office: 020 7734 2222
Booking Link: https://www.leicestersquaretheatre.com