Thursday, 22 February 2018

Theatre review: Angry

Philip Ridley has been particularly interested in monologues in recent years, and following the full-length pair Dark Vanilla Jungle and Tonight with Donny Stixx, and the disembodied voices of Killer, he now puts two actors together to alternate telling six shorter stories. The twist to Angry is that the cast comprises one male and one female actor, but the speeches have been written to be gender-neutral, so at one performance the odd-numbered monologues will be performed by the man and the even-numbered by the woman – Version 1, “She Follows Him” – and at the next they swap roles – Version 2, “He Follows Her.” The latter is the version I saw tonight, with Georgie Henley’s Her opening the show with the titular “Angry,” a disappointingly one-note evocation of that emotion in which her character berates the audience first for staring at her then for ignoring her.

Tyrone Huntley as Him’s first speech is “Okay,” a rather nice little look at a man talking about how his life’s in a rut and wanting to move forward; only to find himself (literally) going round in circles in the sunken neon pit of James Donnelly’s set.

As the speech repeats itself over and over, director Max Lindsay has Huntley increasingly speed through it to comic effect, before Henley returns for her longest story, “Bloodshot,” in which an uptight, horsey teenager has a sexual awakening when she meets a boy with a bloodshot eye. Huntley camps it up in “Dancing,” the monologue that most embraces Ridley’s fondness for surreal horror, as a night out is inconvenienced by gangs throwing severed heads onto the dancefloor. Henley then returns for “Now,” constantly finding herself in darkness and trying to figure out her whereabouts; they’re always situations of great peril but she always seems to miraculously survive them.

Almost half the entire running time is taken up by the final piece – tonight Huntley performed “Air,” in which he finds himself trapped in a capsized boat, counting down the final breaths left in the air bubble. He flashes back over his life, focusing on the story of how he met his husband, and the sudden violent turn events took in the place where they lived. It’s the most overtly political of the pieces (or at least it is when what kind of story it’s really telling becomes clear,) and together with “Bloodshot” is the strongest – it’s no coincidence that the longer monologues feel more developed.

The gimmick of swapping monologues at alternate performances is presumably best seen if you’re planning on seeing both versions, and while there’s been a number of Ridley shows I’ve wanted to see again (and have,) this wasn’t really one of them. Instead I did sometimes wonder about how the alternate version would work – I suspect that “Angry” itself varies the most, and while Henley performing it focuses on the fact that it takes place on a stage, I imagine giving the speech to a young black man would have different implications in its description of someone doing nothing in particular and still getting unwanted attention. In general I found myself curious about how Huntley would do things differently more than I did Henley, so I probably got the right fit for me in seeing the version where he has the greater part of the show. Angry has some interesting ideas and very good performances, but it’s nowhere near Philip Ridley’s best.

Angry by Philip Ridley is booking until the 10th of March at Southwark Playhouse’s Little Theatre (“She Follows Him” on Tuesday Matinee, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday Evening; “He Follows Her” on Monday, Tuesday Evening, Thursday, Saturday Matinee.)

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Matt Martin.

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