I never miss a chance to see a Philip Ridley play. Titles such as this and Mercury Fur tend to be incomprehensible but he writes extremely powerful plays that are unlike those of anyone else. Apart from the underlying power and a certain strangeness, each of his plays is also very different from the others. Gemma Whelan, who was excellent in One Man, Two Guvnors when I saw that at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, delivers an astonishingly emotional performance. This is the Soho Theatre Upstairs, so there is no stage, just the floor she stands on. There is also no scenery and there are no other actors. There is no explanation of why she is talking to us: is she in group therapy, giving a witness statement, a police interview or what? I have just deleted a long paragraph trying to give some of my thoughts on this play but it’s too difficult without givin the whole story. This is a deep, dark play that will stick in my mind for a very long time. Just go and see it and make your own mind up. One thing I’m sure you’ll agree on is that this is one of the best performances by any actor on any London stage today.
It is unfair to compare performances in small theatres with those in large theatres but in this case, Michael Pennington’s astonishing performance in Dances of Death would not have been out of place on the stage of the Olivier. Howard Brenton superbly edited Strindberg’s play to include the rarely performed second act – this really should have gone on to the West End. As usual, the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond was dependably first class, most notably The Stepmother starring the superb Katie McGuinness (and Christopher Ravenscroft who was also in Dances of Death). The slightly larger St James Theatre was more variable but Rutherford & Son and The Room Next Door were both excellent. A final word must go to the Old Red Lion Theatre for another astonishing play by Philip Ridley – The Fastest Clock in the Universe. He is clearly one of our greatest playwrights and I’d never heard of him until last year.
I didn’t realise what a brilliant playwright Philip Ridley is until I saw the revival of Mercury Fur last year. It is hard to realise from this production that the Fastest Clock was written 21 years ago. Joshua Blake is totally convincing as the preening, youth obsessed, central character, Cougar Glass, and Ian Houghton presents a perfect foil as the doting older man, Captain Tock. Throw in the excellent Dylan Llewellyn as 15 year old Foxtrot Darling and the play takes off. It’s not as violent as Mercury Fur where I sat in the front row and got splattered in blood (luckily the fake stuff from joke shops that disappears shortly afterwards) but it’s violent enough, the drama is as tense and it is wickedly funny. If you have never seen any of Ridley’s plays then you must see this. Grab it on a Sunday and it’s only a tenner: fantastic value!