Dark Vanilla Jungle (Manchester)

Assuming the form of some sort of confessional, Philip Ridley‘s new play Dark Vanilla Jungle is one that explores the manipulation of trust to devastating effect.

In a striking show of storytelling, Ridley’s script sees one girl explain to us why she’s not ashamed of what she did to the soldier or of what she did to the baby.

This conceit of a grisly prior knowledge creates deep intrigue from the start, leaving us equally hungry and terrified to hear the rest of the story. Throughout the show, ideas about which characters and elements of the narrative we can rely on continue to shift, resulting in a disconcerting experience that questions our judgement without providing any easy answers.

Under gutsy direction from David Mercatali, Gemma Whelan‘s solo performance is astonishing. With an impressive physical and emotional stamina, she is at once endearing and unsettling, vulnerable and volatile. This explosively visceral performance is given total precedence by William Reynolds‘ minimal design. Appropriately simple, there is no comfortable sense of place for us, an echo of the troubles and desires of our narrator.

Throughout this intense piece there are flashes of viciously dark humour. Though Dark Vanilla Jungle never invites you to relax, it’s still a surprise when you notice that it’s slowly pulled the rug out from under you.

– Sara Cocker

Dark Vanilla Jungle was at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester from 25-27 July 2013. It visits the Edinburgh Fringe from 31 July – 26 August.