Philip Ridley's divisive, prescient and flawed play is revived in a production from Russell Bolam.
Whatever else you might say about the divisive author of ‘The Pitchfork Disney’, Philip Ridley has the gift of prescience. This dark, two-act comedy set in Bethnal Green premiered in 1994, just as gangster memoirs began their 20-year grip on bestseller’s lists. A year later, Shampoo released their single ‘Girl Power’, birthing a movement and emblazoning its catchphrase on shiny red knuckledusters.
Receiving its first major revival under Russell Bolam, ‘Ghost From a Perfect Place’ sets two myths and codes in conflict. Returning to his old turf with a white lily in his buttonhole and a craving for an East End cuppa, Travis Flood is the epitome of your charismatic neighbourhood gangster. He is early for a rendezvous with young Rio Sparks, whose gang of murderous gold lamé-clad girls worship the radical feminist spirit of her dead 13-year-old mother. It’s hard to believe Ridley hadn’t yet clapped eyes on The Spice Girls when he has Flood dismiss Miss Sulphur, Miss Kerosene and their pyromaniac leader as ‘bimbos dressed in kitchen foil’.
Michael Feast is exquisite as the ’60s gangster who keeps his cuffs as clean as his conscience is dirty, but whose lips curl in sudden rage like newspaper catching fire. Sheila Reid matches him tone-for-shifting-comic-tone as Rio’s grandmother, a former usherette who shines her cinema torch into his subconsciousness. The first act is brilliant when, around the kitchen table in her soot-smirched flat, they draw each other into memories and fantasies as precisely blocked as theatre.
The problems start when Rio’s girls thunder in. Things go a little bit ‘Heathers’, a little bit ‘The Craft’, and ‘The Wicker Man’. What Ridley aims for, without success, is the stylised violence, precise socio-political beef and sheer, unhinged menace of ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Florence Hall’s luminous Rio can’t really frighten us: she has one gold boot in a world of piecemeal allegory and the other in a roller derby team. The elemental clash never quite comes between Flood and Sparks, and their comparably flawed ways of ruling society’s ruins.