As those familiar with his work will know, Philip Ridley isn’t one for uniform. Taking seemingly simple stories to unexpected places, the playwright’s ability to bring audiences along on a rollercoaster ride is second to none. Dark Vanilla Jungle, which first premiered back in 2013, is a prime example of this. The play follows Andrea, a neglected teenager searching for somewhere she belongs. Desperation leads her to all the wrong places, with increasingly darker consequences.
It’s no surprise that the writing is tremendous – Ridley has already earnt his place as a treasure of British theatre. Dark, frenetic and scathingly funny, genuine humour is mined from very difficult subject matter.
However, this particular production doesn’t belong to Philip Ridley. It belongs to Seren Vickers. The young actor, making her professional debut, is superb. She is a firework on stage, full of an unbridled intensity. Watching Andrea’s transformation from innocent to broken is heart-breaking, primarily because Vickers’ dialogue delivery and body language are so convincing.
Director Chris Durnall’s best decision was to scale back on the pizzazz. There is use of sound and lighting, of course, but it’s simple and kept to a minimum, as is the set design. He rightfully keeps the spotlight on his lead actor, and she seizes it with both hands.
Dark Vanilla Jungle may be difficult viewing, but it’s essential viewing. The play will ultimately be lauded as another Ridley triumph, but Company of Sirens deserves every credit for bringing it to stage so successfully. And, more specifically, giving Seren Vickers the opportunity to steal the show.