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Radiant Vermin – Chippen St Theatre (NSW)

Written by Phillip Ridley, Directed by Victor Kalka

Reviewed by Charlotte Smee

29th July – 6 Aug. Chippen St Theatre, Chippendale.

With rising costs of living, increasing rents and the lure of fancy cocktails every Friday night, my friends and I have often joked that we’d probably have to wait for someone to die before we could buy a house. But what if someone gave you a house for free? Would you seriously kill for it?

Radiant Vermin follows newlyweds Ollie and Jill living in a tiny apartment somewhere in middle America who get a visit from the mysterious Miss Dee. She gives them a house for free, that they will have to connect to the water and electricity supplies themselves. One night, Ollie accidentally kills a homeless person who has snuck into their home, and they are magically blessed with a fully working, ever-refilling magazine-sparkling kitchen. Gradually, Jill and Ollie realise they can have the home of their dreams – if they’re willing to kill for it.

Phillip Ridley’s writing is sharp, self-aware and fast-paced. A timely production, the style is that of a The Office-esque comedy, with Ollie and Jill speaking directly to the audience and explaining the happenings of the play as if we were their old friends. Much is left to our imagination, including brutal killings and electrocutions of various homeless people or “renovators”, as well as Jill’s changing body as she carries her first and second babies along for the ride. Clever and arresting – Jill and Ollie ask us questions we all ask ourselves and wait for us to answer them.

Michael Becker as Ollie is somewhat stiff, but believable as the hands-on husband always wanting to impress and care for his wife. Nicola Denton is hungry for her many-times renovated nursery and pushes Becker to his limits with her charm. Their chemistry as a couple was questionable and needed some development at times. However, their efforts in playing every guest at their son’s first birthday party was nothing to be sneezed at, with clear gestures that demarcated each character and a building frenzy that had me exhausted in my seat. Melissa Jones as the click-clack heel wearing Miss Dee was endearing, but she shone most as the desperate, soft-spoken young homeless person that is almost Jill’s undoing.

Photographer: Clare Hawley

Direction and design by Victor Kalka were sparse, with a glittering tinsel backdrop and fluorescent lines drawing the boundary between Ollie and Jill’s world and ours. At the back of the stage, characters entered through a “house” shape made also of fluorescent lighting. The glitter backdrop gave a good variety to the all-black curtain and stage, but the purpose of the fluorescent lighting wasn’t clear. It often meant that characters moved somewhat aimlessly around the “house” and had to turn or change direction when the imaginary “hallway” might have continued.

An excellent choice of text for Sydney audiences today, this production of Radiant Vermin needed a little something extra to push it into the realms of excellence. To paraphrase Voltaire and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, with great writing comes great responsibility to do it justice.

Radiant Vermin played at the Chippen Street Theatre until 6th August. You can find out more about Studio Sputnik by following their Facebook page.

Written by Philip Ridley Directed by Victor Kalka Starring Nicola Denton, Melissa Jones and Michael Becker Produced by Michael Becker and Emily Star under Studio Sputnik.


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