16 February 2018
Two performers enter Southwark Playhouse’s ‘Little’ auditorium. As the audience take their seats around the four sides of the stage, the pair square up to each other, silently, passive-aggressively. They slowly become more and more agitated with each other, glowering furiously, becoming more and more tense, wandering past and looping back closer and closer, almost daring to swipe at each other. Their performance space is sunk into the floor, an illuminated grid above them. With this particular audience set up, it rings strongly of the run up to a boxing match. Then the tension finally breaks, the two exchange yelled aggressions and one storms out. The other is left alone, to commence the first of the monologues that make up Angry, Philip Ridley’s newest work.
All six of the monologues are gender neutral and have sort of timelessness about them, never mentioning locations or exact dates. This non-specificity means that the two performers swap roles every performance. On this particular performance, ‘she follows him’ and the results are intriguing enough. But whilst the texts are the same, there’s a lot that can be inferred from gender and ethnicity. You can be confident in assuming that each of them brings wildly different interpretations to these scenes, and the audience will infer different contexts too.
The two performers may be unexpected choices for some; she made her name at a young age in the big budget adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia, whilst he’s better known in the musical theatre world. But don’t be fooled by this – both are excellent dramatic actors in their own right, and could do a lot worse than to continue in this style of work.
Once you get over the initial surprise of hearing Lucy Pevensie drop the F word, Georgie Henley turns in a refreshingly unaffected performance. On this occasion she’s bestowed with a set of monologues that displays her comic ability to great effect – the shortest scene of the evening is arguably the best in her hands, a morbid tale of clubbing gone wrong. On the occasion she is also entrusted with the heartbreaking ‘Air’, the longest, final scene and is revelatory. In all of her speeches Henley is sharp, intelligent and hugely entertaining, demonstrating a wonderful versatility as a performer.
Opposite her, Tyrone Huntley steps away from the musical theatre he’s best known for, and comes across as effortlessly charming. He thrives more in the more conventionally storytelling monologues, luring his audience in with likability and deceptive serenity, before taking the viewers surprise with the severity of the situations. Both confidently hold the audience’s attention and draw us into the miniature worlds they so briefly create. Both are absolutely fantastic.
But it’s not a consistent evening by any means. When Angry is good, it’s exceptional, but when it’s not, it’s disappointingly average, especially coming from a writer like Ridley. The titular ‘Angry’ monologue gets things off to a forgettable start and is frustratingly generic. But the good is terrific, and in both ‘Air’ and the Huntley-performed ‘Bloodshot’, Ridley’s talent for insidiously unsettling storytelling comes to the forefront. There’s a fascinating underlying sense of darkness within every scene.
The sound design needs some refining since there is little new or clever about making your audience jump repeatedly for no reason, but Cassie Mitchell’s lighting grid is very cleverly utilised, flicking and flashing in turns to signify a shift in location. Max Lindsay’s direction keeps its multi-sided audience in mind, to ensure nobody misses out.
This isn’t Ridley’s most extreme stuff by any stretch, but as a piece in its own right it’s an intriguing set up and fantastically acted; for two of the most surprising performances around recently, it’s well worth seeing. These speeches, each fully formed worlds to dip into, are destined to become audition go to’s, decent showcases for any actor – and quite rightly too. And in typical Ridley style, there’s something a little unsettling about Angry that lingers in the back of your mind all the way home. Startling, unsettling, but deeply fascinating, Angry is a worthy addition to the world of Ridley.
Until 10 March 2018