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Radiant Vermin

IO Performance
IO HQ

August 3rd, 2022

Stepping into the IO Performance space on opening night for their latest offering, Radiant Vermin by Phillip Ridley; Anticipation was building. Publicity prior to opening forecast a VERY dark comedy; cast testimonials promised a disturbingly entertaining night out and even the warning signs on the back of the toilet door warned us of adult themes, coarse language, and dark humour. I mean, how dark can a show be if I must be warned about its dark humour? All the signs pointed toward a show I was doomed to enjoy.

 2021’s “Kill Climate Deniers” was IO Performance’s last foray into black comedy territory and that production quickly became my standout IO Show of 2021; so needless to say, I was eager to see if that thrill could be replicated. While the dark humour didn’t live up to my twisted imagination, the cast of Radiant Vermin not only replicated that thrill, but surpassed it and delivered; by far, the funniest, craziest, and most frenetic production in my experience of IO’s short history.

Radiant Vermin, written by Phillip Ridley and directed by emerging director Amelia Pond; centres on married couple Jill and Ollie Swift, (Played by Angie Collins and Matt Harris) and their fantasy of owning their ultimate dream home in time for the arrival of their brand-new baby boy Benji (Played by a baby doll). Persuaded by the “Devilishly red” realtor Miss Dee, they take on a derelict project house on the outskirts of town and commence the process of “renovating” their house through some highly unconventional means. As the neighbourhood begins to grow and thrive around them, their house rises in value, and they begin to struggle with the weight of keeping their secrets intact. Without spoilers, this culminates in a hilarious and exhausting “garden party from hell” that is best experienced in the front row. (But just pretend I didn’t say anything about a garden party.)

Angie Collins and Matt Harris present the two leads, Jill and Ollie, with such fervour and intensity that we see them both drained by the curtain call, having spent every last meal ticket on stage. Both play multiple characters throughout, which constructs the neighbourhood around them like their dream house to dazzling effect.

Both Collins’ and Harris’ work here is exceptional in their own way, but for me Collins’ performance was outstanding. Collins’ performance juxtaposed Harris’ with her decision to play with subtlety over exaggeration. Her performance felt more natural, we could witness her thought process as she experienced them and caught every moment as they came. She was able to match Harris’ exuberant absurdity with a more balanced performance. It was a seriously impressive outing from a performer just out of college.

Harris on the other hand; playing the more neurotic and exaggerated character of Ollie, let his natural slapstick, comic timing and energy do the talking, playing the absurdity of the character to its extremes. This dynamic between the two, one natural, one absurd; assisted the production in nailing the black comedy/absurd style they were seeking. Harris’ character acting is some of the best in town and he proved why he was the perfect fit for this role. Entering the final third of the show, I hadn’t laughed as much as I had hoped; but that is where the laughs just ramp up. By the end I found myself rolling in the aisles (if there were aisles to roll in), at the preposterous similarities to Jim Carrey like characterisation that Harris has in his repertoire.

The other two members of the cast, Janice Molineux as Ms Dee, the “Devilishly Red” realtor and Emily Rose Maloney as Kay, the Homeless tramp; more than held their own, but ultimately this was a vehicle for two up and coming talents to thrive.

The overall design of this production was another intriguing departure from the expected IO Performance tropes. Staged truly minimalist, without props or set items except for the skeleton structure of a house and fairy lights; this was an inspired choice that strengthened the spotlight on the performers. Props that were mentioned were mimed (for the most part), and the majority of the sound effects were made by the performers. This provoked some unexpected laugh out loud moments (including pitching a baby into the nursery offstage and car sound effects that were so obscure yet so accurate). Even at moments when a traditional IO effect was telegraphed, our expectations were diverted, and an unexpected twist occurred. Janice Molineux’s costume design also stood out (in more ways than one!)  

This staging also facilitates the creativity and ingenuity of a director to demonstrate their skill level when they have nowhere to hide. It was hard to determine exactly how many of the staging choices came from the director and how many were offered by the performers experimenting and improvising during rehearsal; but despite that, the ludicrous slapstick tone of the show was enhanced via this staging.

My one minor negative was that some gags were overrun because of the unrelenting pace of the show. There were moments that the audience desired a moment to take a breath and reflect, however this didn’t occur, and some jokes suffered or didn’t land because of this. However, by going too far in the other direction, a slower paced show would have dragged and become too long. Finding that balance is difficult, but one that ultimately could have pushed the show to an extra level.  

IO Performance’s production of Radiant Vermin is an absolute joy. It is a compliment to the team to continually bring interesting new work to Launceston and an encouragement to young directors and actors to continue to push to create fun and joyous work. Tickets are limited for the remainder of the season, so don’t miss out!

Review by Matt Taylor

Radiant Vermin (2022): News
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