For the second time in as many weeks, a playwright asks the question how far would someone be prepared to go to get onto the bottom rung of the housing ladder. Mike Bartlett’s Game had a couple agreeing to let the paying public take pot shots at them and now Philip Ridley, in a play first seen in Bristol last month, has another couple in a similar dilemma, entering into a sort of Faustian pact. Expecting their first child and living in a squalid slum, Ollie (Sean Michael Verey) and Jill (Gemma Whelan) encounter a Fairy Godmother figure in the shape of Miss Dee (Amanda Daniels) who claims to be representing the Government and offers them a house for free, with all removal expenses paid, on condition that they renovate it themselves. Once there, Ollie and Jill accidentally kill an intruder and discover that he turns into bright lights and, magically, the area where this happens is instantly transformed. It does not take long for the couple to realise that, by luring vagrants to the house and disposing of them, all their materialist dreams can come true – a designer kitchen, a wet room and, when “radiant vermin” appears in the front driveway, a Lamborghini. A visit from Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen would not have brought about quicker renovations and, as a result of upgrading this one property and eliminating undesirables from the neighbourhood, the whole area becomes gentrified. Exactly what the Government wants? So, consumerism outranks compassion and enough is never good enough. As their misdemeanours get worse Ollie and Jill repeatedly turn knowingly to the audience and ask “wouldn’t you?” Ridley’s direct style of comedy is a rarity these days, his play being a fantasy social satire and, fittingly, the couple’s surname is Swift. Out of necessity, the play is performed on a bare white stage, without props – not even the most lavish of productions would be able to cope with the set changes required here. Verey and Whelan play the hapless couple like a modern Frank and Betty Spencer, always bright and affable whatever they may get up to. They keep David Mercatali’s lively production bubbling even when the humour seems to be running out of ideas in the middle section. Finally, they produce ten minutes or so of dazzling comedy, playing all the guests attending an awful drinks party, catching perfectly the mannerism and inane chit-chat of a bunch of wannabe middle class social climbers. Exposing the avarice lurking behind closed doors in suburbia and lampooning Government policies towards housing and the homeless, Ridley has given us both a sharp, relevant comedy and 90 minutes of lighthearted fun.
Performance date: 11 March 2015