With this truly remarkable new play, Philip Ridley completes an East End trilogy of siblings and apocalypse – the others were Mercury Fur and Leaves of Glass – that will one day be rated one of the high water marks of British drama in the first decade of this century.
I’m not usually given to such sweeping statements, but Piranha Heights makes me realise that only Ridley in our theatre is combining elements of cruel farce, domestic comedy and vicious morality in a style not emulated since the days of Joe Orton. And he’s not mimicking Orton, either.
Two brothers, Alan and Terry – played with quivering, puckering intensity by bulky Nicolas Tennant and willowy Matthew Wait – have convened in the high rise council flat of their dead mother to sort out the will, the furniture, their own relationship, and a whole bunch of other stuff.
Terry has a fifteen year-old girl in tow whom he wants to re-house. The girl, Lilly (Jade Williams), is covered from head to foot in a black garb with a slit for her eyes; she’s been through hell, as we learn later in the play. Lilly, who talks suspect Arabic, is the first example on our stage of an integrated alien of the most recent terrorist variety. Except, of course, that she’s not integrated at all.
Things really take off when Lilly’s boyfriend, Medic (John Macmillan), a shaven-haired sixteen year-old psychopath, turns up, followed by Alan’s gibbering, sadistic son Garth (brilliant Luke Treadaway). Mum’s old flat becomes a crucible of need and fantasy in equal proportions, as the drama revs up to become an ironic battleground of faith, hope and chastity.
For Mum might have been a prostitute. The baby doll that belongs to Lilly might be a baby and might be a doll. Not only human relationships are up for grabs, so is the bleak cultural landscape at ground level. Ridley writes in a wild, incontinent style, but every line and every scene has a raw, compelling vivacity and application for the here and now, and Lisa Goldman’s brilliant production, the audience ranged on two sides of the grimly accurate interior designed by Jon Bausor, proclaims a work of dark fantasy and genius.