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A CurtainUp London Review
Two brothers, recently bereaved of their mother, meet in her flat on Mothers Day. Haunted by unappeased memories, the truth of which they hotly dispute, they argue about the past and their motherís inheritance: her flat, her precious jewellery and the emotional damage she caused. One of the brothers, Terry (Matthew Wait) stumbles across the teenage, burkha-clad Lilly (Jade Williams) who lives in the same block of flats and has suffered from more tangible family atrocities, including murder, torture and imprisonment. He invites her to live in his motherís flat with her explosive yet loving boyfriend Medic (John Macmillan), much to his brother Alanís (Nicolas Tennant) disgust. When Alanís problematic, disturbed son Garth (Luke Treadaway) appears, he adds to the impending havoc and threatens to disrupt any fragile, finely-balanced dynamics they were striving for.
The traverse set, in the claustrophobically small Soho auditorium, is unforgivingly close in its drab chintz glory: velour sofas, flowery carpet and overall 1960s time-warp air. Audience members are asked not to rest their feet on the stage in case they get hurt in one of the many fights in the course of the play.
The cast are naturalistic and impressive in their rawness. The two brothers add stature to their roles and to their structural, framing function within the play. Matthew Wait plays Terry, an unpublished graphic novel artist with unfulfilled creativity and homosexuality and Nicholas Tennant is Alan his younger, unhappily married and vulnerable brother. For all their flaws, these two characters are portrayed in a human, likeable fashion. Meanwhile, Jade Williamsí Lilly bravely tackles the three page monologue on the horrors in the fifteen-year oldís past and Luke Treadawayís Garth is intensely creepy with a nihilistically sadistic outlook and probably suffers from a plethora of mental disorders. John Macmillan is extremely persuasive as the highly volatile, articulate and mercurial Medic who frequently releases a verbal barrage, whether it be of quasi-Biblical speech, elaborate threats of hatred and violence or simply sheer adoration of a television. Also highly impressionable, he shifts between Lilly and Garth as two paradigmatic relationships, following their leads and immersing himself in their very different fantasies.
As you would expect from Philip Ridleyís finest writing, this incorporates the quirky, quick wit of Londonís East End in a truly chilling portrait of shared delusions, where any attempt to allege the truth is promptly quashed. In a household where a happy family portrait is labelled "fucking propaganda", the past is a unascertainable entity. The scenario descends into a nadir of violence and threats, with a sense of almost-apocalyptic disintegration, but is soon hushed up with mundane explanations and easy self-deception reasserts itself. Similar to Pinter except more original, relevant and convincing, Piranha Heights has a dark, tense energy which it sustains throughout. With its violence and pessimism, not everyone will warm to this play. Admittedly it is uncomfortable, at times even painful to watch, but for those willing to brave it, Piranha Heights is an exhilaratingly excellent piece with exactly-aimed, unnerving shafts of bleak, sinister psychology.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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