Dark Vanilla Jungle by Phillip Ridley
At The Old 505 Theatre,
September 2-September 12
Reviewed By Nathan Lentern
Dark Vanilla Jungle is not for the faint hearted. God it seems has forsaken Andrea (Claudia Barrie), this one woman production begins with Andrea trapped in a cubicle like space and tells a story of a brutal life filled with poverty, violence and sexual abuse.
Abandoned as a child, Andrea is taken in by a gang that quickly begins sexually grooming her. She escapes the gang but is then alone, destitute and consumed with self loathing. Only a deteriorating former soldier gives her any rewarding companionship, because he, unlike everyone else does not pass judgement.
Bleak is playwright Philip Ridley’s speciality, yet even by his standards Dark Vanilla Jungle is an intensely dark. A cavalcade of life destroying events slap Andrea in the face over and over again plunging her into ever deepening depths of despair.
Claudia Barrie gives a breathtaking performance as Andrea. Dealing with horror after horror could, in the hands of a lesser actor, become desensitising and unsatisfying very quickly but with Barrie’s delicate touch they gradually culminate, with each shock producing as much if not more impact than the last.
Barrie’s versatility is on display as she gives voice to a raft of different characters and figures from Andrea’s past. The influence of co-director and vocal coach Emma Louise is on display as an eclectic range of accents, mannerisms and affectations are adopted masterfully as is the wont of a compelling story teller.
Dark Vanilla Jungle certainly couldn’t be described as insensitive. Louise and her fellow director Fiona-Hallenan Baker handle many of the most controversial and traumatic issues modernity has to offer in a grimly respectful and realistic way.
Ridley’s creativity in setting a production entirely within a single cubicle enables Benjamin Brockman (set design) and Tegan Nicholls (sound) to create a brilliantly convincing set. The audience can feel Andrea’s oppressiveness within the cold and austere confines of her cell and it becomes all too easy for the audience to suspend their disbelief which is no mean feat in a production dealing with such intense subjects.
There are no deluded happy ever after moments for our protagonist, mental trauma does not simply dissipate with a silver bullet solution. Instead we witness a raw and honest portrayal of how damage to a victim of abuse manifests. It tells an important story, but there would be those out there ill equipped to process such a story.
In one word Dark Vanilla Jungle is powerful. Its message cuts intensely deeply, for some it could be an immensely rewarding experience, others however may find the content to be wholly disturbing. For anyone wishing to be emotionally effected it is well worth the cost of admission, but they should go with full awareness of the intensity they’re about to witness.
Nathan Lentern is a writer and performer.