Radiant Vermin – Tobacco Factory Theatres ****

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Originally published on Reviews Hub

Ollie (Sean Michael Verey) and Jill (Scarlett Alice Johnson) are stuck in a run down flat in an undesirable area, the kind that features in the scabrous reality documentaries that clog up Channel 5’s evenings. Until one day a note drops through their letterbox and a new home is theirs. Alright, it’s small, the wiring needs doing and the décor could do with a spruce up but it belongs to them. Then one night a confrontation with an intruder leads to an accidental death and the discovery that the passing of one life has led to a gleaming new kitchen installation. Jill wants the nursery done in time to welcome their first child, *bish bosh*, another person down and it is ready. Soon the bodies are piling up and the redevelopment is leading to soaring house prices in this desirable area.

Ridley really is taking aim here. At a fortunate older generation who through greed now see their homes as a nest egg instead of a right, buy low, sell high, rinse and repeat. To a younger generation who wants everything now, brand shiny new and it better be quick. The housing situation is screwed and we’ll all going to hell in a hand basket. His findings are bleak but the play around it is devilishly entertaining with tour-de-force performances and constant laugh out loud zingers.

Verey and Johnson play the couple as wide-eyed innocents, young love’s dream, meeting as spotty teenagers in church and now always on the same wavelength, picking up and finishing off each other’s sentences. Even as the death count picks up around them they are one step removed from the carnage, endearing as the blood flows Yet, underneath there is a darkness to them. It’s there in Jill’s monologue, which starts off with her sweetly talking about her giving her small change to any homeless person she sees on the street and ends with her a ranting frothing bigot who’s decided that the homeless should be wiped from our streets. It’s there in the playful little jigs they perform when they come up with a new plan to take out multiple people in one sweep. What will we do, who will we sacrifice to get what we need?

A terrific piece climbs another gear with a 20-minute section towards the end as a neighbourhood BBQ falls spectacularly apart with Johnson and Verey taking on all the roles from Aussie models to Indian doctors to Home Counties auctioneers. Yes, they’re obvious caricatures, but boy are they funny and both actors tear through them in a breathtaking section that doesn’t pause for breath and ends with both performers gasping for breath and an audience wanting to get up on its feet and applaud. Ridley and director David Mercatali  -who is doing career-defining work here – don’t allow that. We don’t get what we want that easily. Brilliant!

Runs until 14 May then touring   |  Image: Anna Soderblom

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