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Spotlight on: Philip Ridley

Posted on 26 July 2013 by Eve Nicol


Philip Ridley’s creative origin story has been so frequently recounted it barely needs repeating: it’s a constantly expanding and distinct cross-platform body of work defined by a lyrical barbaric beauty and a fantastic palette of recurring imagery. But the most interesting piece of work will always be whatever Ridley is working on at present. “I don’t want to repeat myself, so I’m always trying to push things,” he tells me as we meet at the Soho Theatre on the hottest day of the year. His new play is in rehearsals before its premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. “It can be dangerous because every time you start something new you’re going into unchartered waters.”

The last time A Younger Theatre caught up with the Ridley, he was in the midst of rehearsing his ninth play for adults, Shivered, at the Southwark Playhouse, whilst a major revival of his first play, The Pitchfork Disney, was exciting audiences at the Arcola. A production of his most polemical play, Mercury Fur, was negotiating a West End transfer. All whilst his first collection of plays had been made available for the first time in ten years.

It was a year that “passed in a blur” and was topped off with Feathers in the Snow. From a family show featuring 86 voices and incorporating Southwark Theatre’s Young Company, his new work, Dark Vanilla Jungle, is a creative quantum leap with just one performer. Dark Vanilla Jungle will mark Ridley’s professional Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut. A one-woman play, it touches on themes of gang culture, the objectification of women and the impact of trauma on young people. The play, which has been receiving excellent responses from previews in London and Manchester, first emerged from a 14 character play Ridley had been developing. “One by one the characters dropped off until there was one voice, this girl, Andrea, which just stuck in my head.”

Dark Vanilla Jungle - promo imageDiscovering the central voice of Dark Vanilla Jungle came from expeditions on London buses, listening in on conversations as he travelled from one end of the route to the other. “You know somebody more than you know your mum by the time you get off. I was just listening to girls talk about the boys they were seeing and I thought lots of these relationships sound really abusive. They sound really deeply misogynistic. And yet the girls so wanted to please. They wanted approval even while they were being treated badly.” It was these young women that were the basis of the “everygirl”, Andrea, in Dark Vanilla Jungle.

Ridley had been initially reluctant to return to the form he had explored when performing his own durational pieces as a student at art school. The writing process this time round as been different, “like flexing another finger in the brain” and something he has enjoyed. “It’s been such a thrill to work on a monologue again. Every beat needs to keep it alive for the audience. It was like working out a solo violin piece. There’s no orchestral back up. I fell back in love with monologues in a way I wasn’t expecting.”

It was his student monologues that brought Ridley to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe each summer between the ages of 17 and 25. “It was just me going up in a van and sleeping on a friend’s floor and waking up with my head in the cat litter.” This time, Ridley isn’t making the journey to the Fringe alone. He’s paired up again with producers Supporting Wall and director David Mercatali whose previous partnerships have included Tender Napalm and Moonfleece. Ridley finds the continuity of working with previous collaborators advantageous. “I have a director in David at the moment who really just gets where I’m coming from and we work very well together. He knows the play inside out. We share a similar language.”

Though he’s no longer operating as a one-man-band as he did in his student days (“I directed it, I was in it, I did the flyers, I did the box office and then I would rush in and do the show. I did the whole caboodle”) you may still see Ridley dishing out flyers on the Royal Mile this August. “I am very hands on. I love the work and I love the community of theatre. I love the energy of it and I love the journey of it.” It’s a professional journey that many young companies will embark on this summer at the Fringe. The boldness and fearlessness of new directors excites Ridley and he encourages them to make the most of the freedom that comes with starting out. “Meteors only make sparks when they are entering the atmosphere. It’s the moment of coming in to the orbit of the theatre community that you cause sparks. Its a very special time.”

Emerging companies taking work to the Fringe for the first time may be counting on the benevolence of the swarm of critical publications that emerge each year to validate their work. With his own experiences of facing furiously sensationalist critical response, Ridley offers advice to young companies fearing the sharp pen of the critic: “The truth is quite simple – none of it means a damn. The only way you move forward in art is to basically not to give a fuck about anything except the truth about what you want to explore. So as long as you’re pleased with it, that is absolutely fine. Never set out to second guess what you need to do to please anyone because you will invariably get it wrong. No artist wants to go to their grave and have on the tombstone, ‘They pleased the critics’.”

He continues: “An audience will go with you anywhere so long as they think you’re honest. Even if they haven’t liked your work, they will thank you for the honesty of what you’ve given them. There is a kind of theatrical contract between the stage and the audience which for me is about honesty, bravery and love. The artist is saying ‘if we join hands on this journey, I will take you somewhere that I think you will appreciate and learn from. Even though it might be a shocking ride along the way, I promise you there will be starlight at the end’.”


Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle will be at the Pleasance Dome from 31 July – 26 August part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information and tickets, visit the Supporting Wall’s website.

TREMers theatre revives Ridley’s The Fastest Clock in the Universe at the Old Red Lion, London from 5 – 30 November.


Eve Nicol

Eve Nicol

Eve is the Scottish Regional Co-ordinator of A Younger Theatre. Working from Glasgow, Eve tweets to eat, managing social media for artists and theatre companies, including the National Theatre of Scotland She blogs about social media in the theatre industry and vlogs about productions she’s seen. Eve is on a mission to find the best interval ice cream.

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Review: Shivered

Posted on 14 March 2012 by Jake Orr

Shivered, Southwark Playhouse

Philip Ridley’s tour de force of a play, Shivered, is the story of a family torn apart by the beheading of their soldier son after he is taken hostage abroad. In true Ridley fashion, it is not the act of the beheading that takes priority but the characters’ obtuse ways of seeing the world and how they can deal with the brutal murder. The father, Mikey (Simon Lenagan), is caught u[p in  searching for UFOs, whilst the mother, Lyn (Olivia Poulet), seduces men and desires violent sexual acts. The younger son Ryan (Joseph Drake), sees (in an autistic manner) the way in which those around him deal with the world – but instead of being able to act on this he loses himself to monsters and aliens. The murdered son, Alec (Robbie Jarvis), is a hot-headed man who tries to escape his home town by joining the army, but ends up as fueling the extremists and a society that gladly watches someone being neheaded on a video posted on the internet.

Ridley has an impressive knack for filtering the world around him through a lens of intensity, showing the grotesque in human life. His characters have a pervasive sense of all the bitter and twisted ways that our society has allowed us to accept how truly messed up we are and, instead of just allowing us to accept it, Ridley shows us the truth within it. Whilst Shivered is a calmer approach to the depravity of the world compared to some of his earlier writing, its clear Ridley still has a pen to put razor-sharp dialogue into his theatre.

With a bare stage, Russell Bolam’s direction spills out into the space allowing his cast to have an energy and commitment to Ridley’s text. This is certainly felt in the first act, where the narrative – whilst episodic in form – creates a climax before the interval. Ridley’s characters are wonderfully embodied throughout but particular highlights are drawn from Drake as Ryan and Jarvis as Alec, the two brothers whose relationship and characterisation is utterly believable and honest.

A curious thing takes place within the second act: all the power, commitment and drive of the first act is regrettably lost. Ridley seems compelled to tie up the loose ends of narratives rather than to offer us the inner guts of his characters as initially promised. Beyond Williams’s excellent portrayal of Jack, all the tension and observant intensity that Ridley commands dwindles into nothing.

Shivered does have moments of sheer beauty within Ridley’s poetic descriptions of the world around us. There are particular moments when it seems that Ridley captures everything about the world that we as an audience can not put into words ourselves. It’s the visually poetic but horrific ordeals that, whilst gruesome to hear, resonate much deeper than most of us would like to admit. Yet the promise of this in the first act does leave you disappointed in the second. There is some fine acting and even finer writing, but when a play loses momentum as Shivered does, the audience is left frantically clutching onto the strands of suggestive narratives and ideas. These too quickly pass through our hands.

What Shivered offers is a look at a group of characters driven by inner desires from the darkest side of the human mind. Where the character of William sees videos online as a window onto the world, and Ryan looks to fictional monsters and aliens for signs that he is alive, these characters see a distorted version of the world around them. Whilst Ridley manages to capture our internet obsessions and disdain towards the normality of life, he fails to distill this for the full length of Shivered. A cracking first half act that falls lifelessly limp by the second.


Shivered is at Southwark Playhouse until 14 April.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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Competition: Win Tickets to Shivered at Southwark Playhouse

Posted on 09 March 2012 by A Younger Theatre

Don’t you love it when one of our favourite playwrights has a new play at one of the hottest London theatre venues, and then on top of that you could win yourself some free tickets for it? That’s what we think about Shivered by Philip Ridley at Southwark Playhouse … and that’s because we have some tickets to give away!

Win a pair of tickets to Shivered on Monday 12th March by entering our competition. Read the bottom of this page to find out how, but until then here is the official marketing blurb:

Shivered, Southwark PlayhouseTHE WORLD PREMIER OF


by Philip Ridley

Director: Russell Bolam

‘We can’t all just be hurtling through nothing towards nowhere…can we?’

A young couple are moving into their new home. A soldier is being held hostage. Two boys are searching for monsters. All these things are connected by both family and time…But what story can be told when family and time are broken?

The new play by Philip Ridley – hot on the heels of his smash hit Tender Napalm – marks yet another change of direction for this maverick and ground breaking playwright. Covering over twelve years, it unpicks the story of two families and then re-weaves it into something new and startling. Seven people, one war, a risky romance and mysterious lights in the sky…all come together in the Essex new-town of Draylingstowe, where the view from green hills once offered hope and prosperity for all.

Ridley is a visionary.’ – Rolling Stone


Enter Our Competition:
For your chance to win tickets to the Monday 12th March performance of Shivered simply email with your name, location and date of birth. It’s that simple!

By entering our competition you agree that your email address will be added to the A Younger Theatre mailing list. A Younger Theatre does not pass on your details to anyone else. This competition is subject to availability on tickets and may not be exchanged for a cash alternative or another prize. A Younger Theatre and Southwark Playhouse have the right to change or remove the competition without warning.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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Spotlight On: Philip Ridley

Posted on 27 January 2012 by Chelsey Burdon

Philip Ridley’s first play The Pitchfork Disney thrilled and disgusted critics in equal measure when it exploded onto the stage of The Bush Theatre in 1991. Many considered it a fitting pre-cursor to the onslaught of dark and brutal plays that became known as In-Yer-Face theatre in the mid ’90s. Now, 21 years on, the Arcola Theatre has revived The Pitchfork Disney, and its writer believes it may be more relevant now than it was then.

“It’s almost like time has caught up with the play in a way, because there was a lot of what was happening in The Pitchfork Disney that the initial audiences thought was fantasy and extreme. This idea of people locking themselves away and creating their own world inside their house seemed very bizarre to people at the time. The fact that they lived a predominantly fantasy life, that they created their own world around them. In the world of computer games and people living on the Internet and having avatar names and other life scenarios, most young people have got that now anyway.”

The Pitchfork Disney tells the story of adult siblings Haley and Presley, who have spent years of their lives in isolation, inhabiting their family home after the death of their parents; locked in an eternal state of childhood reminiscence. They tell each other apocalyptic stories as a means of comfort and survive on a curious diet of chocolate and biscuits. But their fantasy world is disrupted by the arrival of Cosmo Disney, a modern Adonis of a man who confronts them with the harsh reality of the world and forces them to ask themselves unsettling questions.

In one memorable scene, Disney eats a cockroach for entertainment. Those first audiences reacted exactly as might be imagined. “I got a lot of stick at the time, a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, as if anyone would ever do anything that disgusting’, and of course now you get film stars doing it on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!” The world we live in, then, has changed, and with it our perceptions of our world. “I think what will be different now is that people will be able to come along and see it as a piece of drama and not a sequence of oh-my-god shockfest moments.” Ridley is clearly bemused by the furore that has surrounded his work. “It was just a play. I didn’t know it was going to have that kind of reaction. I don’t think any writer that is worth their salt sets out to write a play for shocks.”

But Ridley is no stranger to controversy. One of his most recent works, Mercury Fur, was deemed so extreme that his regular publisher refused to put the play to paper. Daily Telegraph critic Charles Spencer described it as “the most violent and upsetting new play since Sarah Kane’s Blasted”. Strong words indeed. But with his training as a visual artist at Saint Martins School of Art, Ridley arrived on the scene in a rather different manner to other In-Yer-Face playwrights such as Kane. “When The Pitchfork Disney happened I wasn’t part of the theatrical landscape at that time, which is possibly part of the play’s strength. I was kind of into theatre completely left of field. I had no preconceptions of what I should or shouldn’t be doing, I just had this play that came out of my world of paintings and drawings and performance art.” The strand that unites Ridley’s work in theatre, film and visual art is his enthusiasm for stories. “Sometimes they come out as a sequence of paintings, sometimes they come out as a stage play. But the images that I put in plays are not really the images I would paint.”

To be found in his plays is a dark, dystopian view of the world, and one that Ridley believes the younger generations can best comprehend. “They get the ridiculousness and the savagery and the irrationality of the world that we live in and they realise it’s a kind of amoral thing. There is no one going to abseil in and give us answers. Religion can’t do it; politicians can’t do it. We’re living in chaos. And we just join the dots to make sense as best we can.” Our culture of instant information has reached the point of complete saturation. We are never more than a few clicks away from watching comedy or tragedy,violence or humility. With YouTubeTwitter and Facebook, we are the generation that understands and perceives the world around us for its good and its ill, as no generation has before. It is “a change of consciousness which is fascinating and exciting”.

This goes above and beyond theatre itself. “Seeing something happen has an effect on us that is much more visceral and immediate than it ever was before. To see the effects of war, to see the effects of people being harmed [has] changed things… There’s a kind of new politics. That is really exciting to me. It’s nothing to do with political parties or agendas. It’s just about humanity; it’s just about caring for people.” Ridley’s new play addresses the zeitgeist directly. Shivered (opening at Southwark Playhouse on 7 March) stretches over 12 years and tells the fragmented story of two families who move to the fictional town of Draylingstowe. “They move into this new town with all the ambition of a new car plant opening, new jobs, new town, green hills and everything is going to be fantastic. Then it shows bit by bit how that disintegrates and disillusion sets in. Its kind of a state-of-the nation meets a dreamtime kind of play.”

Ridley champions young writers who are “trying to get theatre back to its basics”. They must show “a kind of resistance to, or a reconsidering of, some of the bigger, more bombastic theatre.” In essence, good storytelling and real emotion. “There is a turning towards something which is much more raw and visceral. There is something very ritualistic and exhilarating and tribal… about sitting close to somebody going through something and feeling something with them. It’s about empathy; getting an audience to… feel something for a situation that normally they wouldn’t.”

With the experience of working in a range of mediums, Ridley reflects that much of his theatrework is concerned with claustrophobia. “It’s about being locked in that room with those people and of course cinema can do that but it’s a different kind of experience. So I want them to work as stage plays.” A reluctance, then, towards the calling of Hollywood? “I’m very wary of this kind of strange hierarchy of where we see the arts these days… I don’t see it like that. Stage plays are meant to be seen in a theatre in a closed space with real actors.” Ridley seems to have found a like-minded director in Edward Dick, who takes the helm of the Arcola‘s revival of The Pitchfork Disney.

“The last time I visited the rehearsal room all that was on stage apart from the actors was a chair. I really like the way it’s looking because you can just see the performances and just let the actors create this journey, so hopefully the lights will go down and things will begin to explode.” There are always nagging nerves, however. “Its terrifying. Terrifying and exciting in equal measure… If it’s got any theatrical chops at all it should feel like a different play now. It should still carry theatrical weight.”

Yet beyond the terror of watching the performance, there is the joy of creation. “You’re just trying to tell the story as clearly and as inventively and as thrillingly as you can for an audience.” And how does Ridley describe his process when he wrote The Pitchfork Disney, his self-proclaimed “hand grenade” of a play? “I was just doing my thing. And hopefully it’s that that makes the play still feel fresh and relevant.”

The Pitchfork Disney runs from 25 January to 17 March at the Arcola Theatre. For tickets and more information, visit the theatre’s website.

Shivered plays at Southwark Playhouse from 7 March to 14 April. For tickets and more information, visit the theatre’s website.

Philip Ridley: Plays 1 will be published by Methuen Drama in February. To order or for more information, visit the website here and follow @methuendrama.

A Younger Theatre is giving away a copy of Philip Ridley: Plays 1 courtesy of Methuen Drama. For your chance to win, sign up to the AYT newsletter here by Monday 6 February 2012.

Already on our mailing list? Simply email your name, DOB and location to to be entered into the draw!

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