Onto an empty stage comes Andrea. She stands there, unsure what to say until she blurts the story of the time when she was stung by a wasp. She is a 16 year old who’s had a rough childhood and wishes to have a family and a home of her own. She tells the audience her story of love, deception, abuse, sex slavery and abandonment.
Writer Philip Ridley is known for piling on the pain and misery in his stories, and Dark Vanilla Jungle is no exception. Playing Andrea is Gemma Whelan. Chirpy and scatterbrained, she is easily distracted and prone to wonder off onto another subject. Gradually, though, we get to see a girl with a tortured mind. Her bursts of anger increase and the audience start to question whether parts of her story are real as the play ends on a traumatic climax.
Plaudits go to Ridley and Whelan for bringing some bleak subjects to the fore in this monologue. If I did have an issue then it would be that the last third of the play feels rushed, which lessened the impact of the ending. I would have liked another 10-15 minutes to flesh out the story. Otherwise this 75 minute play never holds back as it shines a light on the lives of people like Andrea.
Playing in Salisbury until 7 March, then touring at Bristol Tobacco Factory and Soho Theatre until 13 April 14.
– David Jobson