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Radiant Vermin

by on 13 November 2021

We Live in Glasshouses?

Radiant Vermin

by Philip Ridley

Progress Company at Progress Theatre, Reading until 20th October

Review by Nick Swyft

Radiant Vermin is a morality tale, in which a young couple are offered a free house in a rundown estate by the mysterious Miss Dee (Liz Carroll).  The house needs a lot of work.  No problem for a young couple, you would think, notwithstanding that there is a baby on the way.  Except that they need it done quickly and Ollie’s DIY skills aren’t really up to it.  This is all well and good until the husband, Ollie (Adam Wells) accidentally kills a vagrant whom he finds in the kitchen.  There is, of course, a minute’s consternation (66.6 seconds to be precise) before a piece of magic happens and the kitchen is transformed.  They realise that the entire house can be done out, room by room, provided someone dies in each room.  There are a lot of homeless vagrants around, and so plenty of people who could die without too many questions being asked.

With the baby on the way, the couple naturally want the best for their child, but how far are they prepared to go to provide it?  It would be a completely different play if they hadn’t gone all the way, of course.  But the question asked is how different are we?  Who hasn’t made an immoral choice to make their lives better?  Arguably, we do it all the time, and if, as Jill and Ollie do, they consider the vagrants worthless people, who would miss a few?

“I feel this …thing inside me. Just here. Next to my heart. It’s small. The size of a sparrow.

I don’t know what it looks like. But I know it’s got claws because it scratches.”

This play is uproariously funny in places, making us question our materialism very effectively.  At one hour and fifty minutes with no interval it is quite long, and since it is essentially a two hander, this puts a lot of strain on the main actors Katie Upton (Jill) and Adam Wells (Ollie).  That load might have been shared by having a larger cast of bit players.  Maybe a few props would have helped too.  As it was, the action in many of the scenes had to be narrated by one or other of them.  Credit should be given to both Katie and Adam for carrying this off, and especially Katie, since it was her first outing with Progress.  The only real criticism is that the play was performed at full throttle.  There were reflective scenes which might have been portrayed more thoughtfully.

The play also required a certain amount of audience participation.  We were asked to vote, for example, on whether the next death should go towards a new nursery, or a new bathroom. Then there was the Lamborghini that had been magicked into existence.  This is hard to handle with an adult audience who need to be woken up to the need to participate, and of course there is always the danger of heckling.

Finally, credit is due to Liz Carroll’s portrayal of the slightly sinister and all-knowing Miss Dee and her representation of the vagrant sacrificed for the nursery (not all the audience got their way!).  These were two cameo roles which showed her outstanding versatility.

Nick Swyft, November 2021

Photography by Mark Peace

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