Rachel (Maddie Rice) is grounded, bubbly and immediately likeable. She is simultaneously nervous, terrified and anxious with every breath. As she narrates her story, she jumps between these two opposing states of mind – every anecdote, every piece of the puzzle keeps the audience on their toes. We are thrown between hilarity and horror without knowing why. All that is given away is that Villain has a dark side, be it a crime that Rachel has committed, been witness to, or been a victim of. Whatever the situation, it’s never fully revealed – the focus isn’t important in Martin Murphy’s writing, merely the emotion and the maelstrom that surrounds the detail. The moment itself is fleeting; the effect everlasting.
Rice’s gift for engagement and narration is evident in this hour-long monologue that never slows in pace or ceases to hold its ground. She stops, turns away and slips effortlessly into her next tale, be it one of emotional fragility or extroverted glee. When she’s scared, there is a chill in the air; when she’s enjoying life, we all recognise parts of ourselves in her descriptions. These details ring true for any young professional, the questions we all grapple with on a daily basis – is my job satisfying? Should I be doing more to help people? What will happen if I have just one more drink? Don’t I also want to be recognised, be famous, be popular?
That last question flips the tables and reveals the grim truth of Rachel getting her wish. Suddenly she is desperate to be no-one again, a face in a crowd with her grip on normality returned to her. As the play progresses, Murphy slowly reveals more of the detail that turns her life upside down, little clues here and there that the audience can use to form their own opinions about Rachel. We behave exactly as the press do – we judge her based on limited information. She seems so lovely, but might she also be the Villain in this piece? Rice reacts with the same level of horror at providing these tiny insights as she would if blurting out the whole truth straightaway. Each time she draws us further into her world, dragging us through the looking glass.
Greed is everything. Never Google yourself. Money should make you proud. Snippets of wisdom that Rachel has learned the hard way, how it morphs her character and her journey. She tries so hard to do something good, to be a helpful member of the community, her new career in social work finally giving her the joy that she has always longed for. Murphy’s show effortlessly proves that even the noblest of intentions can throw good people into the harsh realities of society. It’s not Rachel’s fault, but she is judged to be the Villain nevertheless.
Villain is playing King’s Head Theatre until March 4.