Playwright Philip Ridley specialises in stories you probably didn’t want to hear. His exceptionally dark plots creep up on you slowly and before you know it, you’re sick at the thought of other people. But in ‘Dark Vanilla Jungle’ he’s surpassed himself.
This is not a comfortable night, but good theatre rarely is. The play is an astonishingly raw monologue delivered by a disturbed young girl who is abused, exploited and hurt until she becomes a shell of a person, racked with paranoia, madness and despair.
Delivered at an extraordinarily intense motor-mouth speed by comic and ‘Game of Thrones’ actor Gemma Whelan as Andrea, the monologue grabs you by the throat and takes you to some very nasty places. It starts off slowly, with Andrea as a funny, carefree London teenager. The piece builds until she is tipped into a frenzy after she meets an older man who grooms her, promises marriage, but instead gives her to his ‘friends’ who repeatedly rape her. She is abandoned by her parents and driven to commit a horrifically gruesome, very weird, but desperately tragic act.
Whelan’s performance makes the evening. The sheer velocity of it is astounding and she doesn’t let us off for a moment, staring down her audience, barking questions and occasionally screaming at our excruciating wall of silence.
It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by this piece and by the end it’s almost too much. Andrea’s, and therefore our, interpretation of reality is unbearably confused and it begins to feel as though Ridley is being gratuitously horrible. Then, just before it’s too much to bear, we’re let out into the night with the incredibly uncomfortable thought that somewhere things like this are happening for real.
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