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Dark Vanilla Jungle

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars
“Wasps only sting people they love,” observes Andrea, the troubled teen at the centre of Philip Ridley's devastating monologue near the beginning of a production by the Supporting Wall company first seen at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. If that is the case, the litany of ills inflicted on her that are gradually laid bare over the next seventy-five minutes would surely fulfil every yearning for love that Andrea has ever felt. As it is, as she's left alone by feckless parents, taken advantage of by men who make her feel grown up and pushed to emotional extremes just to survive, it becomes ever clearer exactly how damaged Andrea is.

Gemma Whelan's fearless performance as Andrea initially sucker-punches the audience with what at first appears to be standard teenage tittle-tattle a la Little Britain's Vicky Pollard. Only when she flips into confrontation mode for the first time does it slowly dawn on us that something isn't quite right with this formerly chirpy, wide-eyed girl. As she spasms on the floor mid-way through unleashing her increasingly grim confessional, you wonder how far she can go. The answer is heart-breaking.

There's something of Greek tragedy in Ridley's relentless text, even as it captures the frighteningly up to date phenomenon of sexual grooming by men who take advantage of vulnerable girls like Andrea. David Mercatali's production is played out on a suitably empty stage that allows neither
Whelan nor the audience a place to hide from some of the disturbing material that is thrown up. It goes without saying that Whelan is astonishingly good in an epic tale of corrupted innocence that takes no prisoners.

The Herald, March 3rd 2014

ends



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