The stage for Radiant Vermin is bare, perhaps surprisingly so, when you first walk in. For a play that markets itself as full of ‘murderous materialism’, there is a notable lack of props or background – but that in itself is part of the imaginative work that the play requires from its audience. The play begins in medias res; a young married couple, Ollie and Jill, find themselves tempted by a deal that is too good to be true when the mysterious Miss Dee offers them the opportunity to start new lives in a house of their own. There’s only one catch: they have to renovate the house from scratch.
At this point, I understand why the stage is so sparse. The audience is invited to imagine whatever delightful interior designs their own hearts desire. But, at the same time, the background music and lighting are not to be forgotten, for both tend to creep up on you, occasionally bursting into a flash of emphasis.
The quirkiness of the script is done justice by the actors. Both James Akka (Ollie) and Catty Tucker (Jill) do a marvellous job of giving the characters a distinct personality (and accent!), and I was also impressed by how they managed to slip seamlessly into the skins of the various characters required. Imogen Front (Miss Dee/Kay) delivers a remarkable performance, alternating between tugging on heartstrings as a fragile waif and sharing knowing stares with the audience as the master orchestrator of some higher (or lower) plan. The constant allusions to murder and housing reminded me of a recent film which also tackled the same themes and motifs: Parasite (2019).
Whilst the play has a strong start, the most enjoyable scenes are found when Ollie and Jill start the various renovations. As the play progresses, we are reminded that, as with all impossible wishes and offers that seem too good to be true, the realities of greed and conscience inevitably come back to bite. The play’s weakest points came towards the end. The anticipated garden party is an ordeal that I personally found exhausting. Towards the end we see Ollie and Jill restart the cycle with the promise of a new house, but with double the murder. They accept this, all moral qualms seemingly forgotten.
The play explores the pertinent modern day issues surrounding homelessness. In a jarring monologue, Jill defends and justifies the decision to murder in well rehearsed arguments reminiscent of language we have all probably heard before. The play brings the question of how to tackle the homelessness crisis to its negative extreme. It asks the audience to consider the curious detachment we have to problems that burden our fellow man, as well as how far we can go in order to get what we want.
In summary, Radiant Vermin is a fourth-wall breaking, exhilarating, and surprisingly touching piece of theatre. It manages to balance a surprising number of issues in a way that allows you to experience nearly the full range of emotions in just one and a half hours. Both audience and actor have to work together in this act of creation; the outcome is disturbing, but will leave you challenged and with much to mull over.