Dark Vanilla Jungle, Theatre N16


Andrea isn’t very well. In solitary confinement at some sort of secure facility, she has no one to talk to other than those who briefly visit and those who live in her head. It’s likely the audience is the latter, as her monologue reveals the story of a young woman unstoppably desperate to love and be loved. This desperate runs so deep that she conjures a past relationship with a vegetative amputee she encounters in passing at a hospital, and goes on to do Very Bad Things that land her in this facility.

Whilst Philip Ridley’s antihero has committed some undeniably terrible offences, he demonstrates she’s done them because she endured similar as a child and teenager. Monstrous people are the product of nurture (or lack thereof) rather than nature, and Andrea is a textbook case. It’s easy to feel sorry for her after the trauma she endures and the subsequent lack of reason. Clever storytelling easily generates empathy here.

The script juxtaposes Andrea’s story/self as two halves against each other, yin and yang – the first is of Andrea’s exploitative and abusive relationship with Tyrone, a guy she meets at McDonalds. She is inexperienced and idealistic. She tells of horrendous things being done to her that she doesn’t fully understand. In the second she is the one committing the atrocities. After discovering Glen in the hospital bed next to her carer’s and overhearing his mother’s conversation, Andrea constructs an elaborate backstory between herself and Glen in order to worm her way into his life (and his mother’s) to feel needed. It’s a skilled use of contrast and storytelling even with the ambiguous ending.

Emily Thornton excels as Andrea, showing consistent emotional range and a clear character journey. Director Samson Hawkins makes some discordant choices, though. He sets the pace a bit too fast, and despite textual references to Andrea being from south London, Thornton has a northern accent. Though she is clearly contained in a small space and the stage layout goes some way towards hemming her in, she doesn’t feel particularly restricted and there’s an unreasonable lack of furniture. A single chair would go far in adding variation in energy.

Ridley’s script and Thornton’s execution go a long way towards making this a compelling production. Addressing a few small issues would propel it the remaining distance. It’s certainly admirable work for a young company.

Dark Vanilla Jungle runs through 31 March.

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