Photo: Sara Krulwich

  • Opening Night:
    June 2, 2016
    July 3, 2016

    Theater: 59E59 Theaters / 59 East 59th St., New York, NY, 10022


    When a young couple are offered their ideal house by a mysterious new scheme it prompts the question: How far would any of us be prepared to go to get our dream home? A fast-paced comedy, Radiant Vermin is a powerful and provocative satire about the housing market, homelessness and inequality. Written by Philip Ridley--one of the UK's most acclaimed and innovative authors, and winner of Time Out London, Critics' Circle, Evening Standard, and Edinburgh Fringe First Awards--this is a powerful artistic response to one of the defining social dilemmas of our time, and the need for everyone to have a family home.


    ‘Radiant Vermin,’ Newlyweds on a Dodgy Path to a Dream House

    Ben Brantley

    June 8, 2016: Jill and Ollie are as perky as contestants on a big-bucks game show, the kind where eager eyes and electrified smiles are mandatory. This charming young British couple has been chosen by the gods — or by a government council, to be precise — to participate in a wonderful new program that bears the aspirational rubric of Social Regeneration Through the Creation of Dream Homes. Yes, the house of their dreams will be theirs if they simply do what comes naturally. Of course they may not feel that what’s required of them is anything like natural behavior. But then these dewy newlyweds, who have been living in a squalid council estate known as “the crime capital of the universe,” don’t know human nature as well as Philip Ridley does. Played with manic (and tireless) verve by Scarlett Alice Johnson and Sean Michael Verey, Jill and Ollie are the central characters in Mr. Ridley’s “Radiant Vermin,” which opened on Tuesday night as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters. Anyone acquainted with Mr. Ridley’s plays, which include the apocalyptic shocker “Mercury Fur,” understands that bad things happen to good people in his world. Or let’s just say that bad things happen, period. The question of individual goodness, and whether it exists, is moot for Mr. Ridley, though Jill and Ollie would certainly describe themselves as possessing it. That remains true even after they commit acts in the name of upward mobility that would make another ambitious couple, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and his lady, recoil in horror. Directed at a bouncy pace by David Mercatali and featuring an excellent Debra Baker as an all-knowing Mary Poppins-ish bureaucrat (talk about your nanny state), “Radiant Vermin” is a blithely told fable for the age of unaffordable housing. Like a Brothers Grimm story, it is executed with its own consistent fantasy logic, deployed to remind us of the dangers of getting what we wish for. William Reynolds’s white blank-slate set adds a note clinical detachment, as if Jill and Ollie were pathological specimens, there to furnish the room with their wild narrative emissions. At a little over 90 minutes, “Radiant Vermin” is probably too long for its pithy purposes. Once you grasp its basic conceit, about which I am deliberately being coy, there aren’t too many places for it to go that will surprise you. But Mr. Ridley understands the importance of variation in theater. And just when you start to think, “Enough already,” he introduces another element that jolts this moral satire out of its admonitory, singsong rhythms. Such as bringing into view one of the hitherto unseen creatures of the title. If you plan on seeing “Radiant Vermin,” you might want to stop reading here. Because now I’m going to spill the show’s main secret, which is revealed fairly early on. Those vermin are homeless people, who have brought down the market value of the neighborhood into which Jill and Ollie, expecting their first child, have been moved. The house the couple inhabits there is in a woeful state of decay. To make it livable — heck, to make it as glorious as anything out of Architectural Digest — Jill and Ollie are required to kill a neighborhood vagrant on their premises. Each dead homeless person equals another fantastically restored room. And as usually occurs in such fables, the more the greedy get, the more they want. There you have the essence of “Radiant Vermin,” which by Mr. Ridley’s standards is unusually blunt in its moralizing and unusually direct in implicating its audience. Still, it makes for nasty and energetic fun, especially when Ms. Johnson and Mr. Verey act out the entire obnoxious, consumerist guest list of what Ollie describes, without overstatement, as the “birthday party from hell.”



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