What fascinates me about Arcola Theatre’s revival of Philip Ridley’s Ghost From A Perfect Place is the explosiveness of it: it’s never aggressive, but cleverly opens up the audience’s imagination and empathy without forcing a specific reaction. Great theatre is, in my opinion, a performance of extraordinary insight to truth, something that resonates with us as human beings despite our personal background. Something that reaches out to the viewer and touches them somehow –without forcing an objective down their throat. Something that hits with a variation of coloured language and emotion that will nudge you towards your own personal reaction to the piece.
In that, Ghost From A Perfect Place is highly successful. Off to what seems like a slow start, it catches fire as the drama unfolds and Philip Ridley proves he’s one of the most exciting voices of modern British theatre. Darkly funny it explores the monster within and what drives people off-track in life and how they cope with their inner demons.
Back in the sixties, Travis Flood led a gang that terrorised East London, and after many years absence he returns to find the place in the hand of a new gang – a mob of girls, led by the beautiful but damaged Rio. As memories surface, their stories entwine and truth threatens to burst.
Philip Ridley’s writing is intense with sharp rhythm and poetry that propels you into a startling portrait of very real tragedies of people in London. With a quirky and amusing start (with the brilliant Sheila Reid showing how the British ease difficult and awkward moments in life by turning to the ever so clever invention of Earl Grey), the play shows great variation in tone and emotion as Torchie (Reid), mad as a hatter, reveals her tragic loss of family and dependency, and Travis Flood (Michael Feast) realises the depths of pain he has caused others in the community. The cocktail becomes venomous as the girl gang enters, led by Rio (Florence Hall). Hall has an incredible stage presence that, despite the horrors of golden miniskirts that makes your insides cry (and secretly curse yourself for ever wearing similar disasters in the 90s), portrays a young woman with extraordinary hidden depth. Despite her frail appearance she moves with authority and shows great versatility. She is supported by Scarlett Brookes and Rachel Redford, both intensively loading the space, and from Act Two the play is thrown into a tornado of high-tense energy, playing with pace and rhythm which makes the poetry of the piece exciting, pulsating and hair-raisingly real. Redford is explosive and seems unstoppable, and Feast’s power is truly manifested by his silent reaction to the forceful girl group. The dynamics are exciting and really shows director Russell Bolam’s ear for language and intention.
A Ghost From A Perfect Place shows an edgy insight to the search for identity and how we try to identify ourselves through others, in groups that will support our journey and try to divert us from our inner demons. It’s a powerful insight into human psychology and how we deal with trauma and loss when we’ve lost our sense of self. It’s a fiery piece with an incredible cast and a creative team honouring the powerful writing of Philip Ridley. A highly affecting piece of theatre.
A Ghost From A Perfect Place is playing at the Arcola until 11 October. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website.