Dark Vanilla Jungle (Edinburgh Fringe)

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

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