Tuesday, 16 September 2014

REVIEW: Ghosts from a Perfect Place at the Arcola Theatre

This month, and until 11 October, the innovative Arcola Theatre in Dalston presents Sarah Stribley’s production of Philip Ridley’s Ghosts from a Perfect Place. This is quite literally an explosive new production, as the playwright from East London gives us a story of fire, flames, and the burning scars that ghosts from the past can leave behind.
The two acts are incredibly different, which makes this play very exciting. In the calm Act I, we are introduced to Torchie, who’s lived in London’s East End all her life and is waiting for her granddaughter Rio to come home, and Travis, who is about the same age as Torchie. Behind his glamorous appearance and stories, he makes us uneasily wonder why he is also waiting for Rio in this old deteriorated kitchen. Later, the explosive Act II reveals that Travis, who was a feared gang leader over 30 years ago, finds himself threatened by a whole new gang breed and faced with his ghosts. Rio, a beautiful blonde gang leader dressed in gold and obsessed with fire, as well as her two “Disciples”, will try to make sure he regrets those he hurt.

Philip Ridley is a fantastic playwright; The text in Ghosts from a Perfect Place is tight, full of surprises, and mixes proper darkness with humour. While we know something is about to change at any moment in Act I with the appearance of the three young characters, we sit and enjoy the conversation between the two older actors. I particularly appreciated the scenes where the two “grown-ups” talk about East London and the beauty of the area and its inhabitants. This is one example of the play being very down to earth and real. However, I wish the final revelation about Travis had been less obvious. 
This being said, the writer, along with director Russell Bolam succeeds in making us always want to learn more, without noticing the time fly by. I enjoyed the contrast between the very naturalistic Act I (until the final minutes) and the spiritual quality of the girls in Act II. This was amplified by the sound and lighting designers Richard Hammarton and Malcolm Rippeth. On a different note, it’s refreshing to observe three young female characters in the theatre, while there is so much talk of men having the most interesting roles. 
Of course, one has to mention the actors here. The cast is top-notch. Sheila Reid is delightful and funny as Gran Torchie, and Michael Feast as Travis is frightening and unsettling, all the while showing sensitivity. As for the girls, who form their own type of “three sisters”, the chemistry between them is palpable, and made even stronger by the sexual attraction between two of them. Florence Hall shines as a golden Rio, but she also receives excellent support from Scarlett Brookes, who radiates in her quirkiness, and Rachel Redford, who shows us a fearless performance. It was great to watch the tension between their desire to influence and frighten those who come in their way, and their lack of self-awareness and self-confidence. They all desperately needed something to hold on to. 

Ghosts from a Perfect Place is an exciting and unsettling production and a great choice for the start of the autumn.

Review by Sophie Tergeist 

Rating: ★★★

Ghosts From A Perfect Place runs at the Arcola Theatre from September 11th to October 11th 2014 

Cast Includes: Scarlett Brookes, Michael Feast, Florence Hall, Rachel Redford & Sheila Reid. 

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