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Dark Vanilla Jungle (Edinburgh Fringe)

Philip Ridley's new play, about 'one girl's craving for family and home', premieres at the Pleasance Courtyard

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Philip Ridley's first play for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is an emotional roller-coaster and a virtuoso solo turn from Gemma Whelan, best known as Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones and Rachel in One Man, Two Guvnors.

Whelan plays Andrea, a girl who wanted nothing but love, gave all she could find and is slapped about and let down on all sides.

Her parents met at a music festival in Ireland and ran away – to Croydon, alas. She is put into the "care" of her battle-axe granny, Mrs Vi, in the East End of London (Ridley's patch), and criminally exploited by the married pimp of a sex ring in gangland.

The monologue fractures in two when Andrea, visiting Vi in hospital, falls instantly and inexplicably in love with a wounded soldier lying in the next ward in a vegetative state.

This puts her on top, so to speak, in the sex stakes, and her story spirals into a gruesome and shockingly detailed account of desperation, pregnancy, and a stream of sub-consciousness in a dark forest where foxes lurk in the undergrowth.

David Mercatali's production maintains the same sort of tension and vitality he brought to Ridley's Tender Napalm, and Whelan's headlong performance is a stunner.

She plays the audience on three sides to perfection and seems to glide in and out of childhood, adolescence and innocently depraved maturity with complete ease and naturalness; this is highly skilled acting from the top drawer.

Dark Vanilla Jungle continues at the Pleasance Courtyard until 26 August 2013