Radiant Vermin

Theatre, Off-West End
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Philip Ridley offers a macabre solution to the housing crisis.

It says a lot about Philip Ridley that this new play about a couple who achieve their dream home by massacring homeless people is actually one of his jollier works.

‘Radiant Vermin’ is an allegorical satire about the housing crisis that unfolds like a modern day Grimm tale. Here, our Hansel and Gretel are Ollie (Sean Michael Verey) and Jill (Gemma Whelan), a pathologically square couple living in a tiny flat on a grotty estate.

On a stark white set, they chattily narrate the story, which sees them lured to a large house in a rundown part of town by the apparently ominiscient Miss Dee (Amanda Daniels, the only other cast member), who offers them the fixer upper with no strings attached – which they accept with bemusement.

But when a homeless person breaks in and Ollie accidentally kills him, the dead man’s body evaporates and – improbably – turns into their dream kitchen (mercifully for both our nerves and the budget, the violence is only described). Despite not really being the murdering kind – Jill is a Christian! – the pair feel they owe it to their unborn baby to embark on a ruthless wave of killing.

It’s a hysterically heavy-handed allegory for the ravages of gentrification, the way it shatters old  communities and drives out the poor. But ‘Radiant Vermin’ works, because it’s dispatched with such flippant glee by the writer, cast and director David Mercatali. We laugh at Jill and Ollie because they’re so exuberantly unmenacing, and because we recognise that their killings aren’t really killings but a metaphor for complicity in gentrification – which most of us are either victims or beneficiaries of.

But it’s hard to feel too indicted when the whole thing is so frothily light and loopily enjoyable; the thing is it’s really enjoyable, especially the audacious climactic scene where Whelan and Verey play all the characters at a ghastly children’s birthday party. Philip Ridley: sicko, firebrand, and all-round entertainer.

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