Ciara Rafter explores humankind’s need to belong with the help of Philip Ridley’s gripping Dark Vanilla Jungle, performed by Wales’ own Company of SIrens.
Playwright Phillip Ridley’s critically acclaimed Dark Vanilla Jungle premiered at Edinburgh Festival in 2013, featuring Gemma Whelan of Game of Thrones, stunning viewers with a powerful performance on the topic of home and belonging, and the opposition of this concept – isolation.
From the 3rd– 7th March, the play makes its Welsh premier presented by Company of Sirens at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, introducing Seren Vickers in her first professional debut. With Whelan’s success of performing the monologue of 15 year old Andrea, expectations and anticipation were high, but Vickers’s take on the character showed her absolute passion and ability through her intense and dramatic, yet humorous performance. The sold out show cleverly gripped the audience with its surprising relatability and sudden topic shifts, contributing to the character of an obsessive and psychotic ‘teenage girl gone off the rails’. The compelling performance expresses people’s innate need for comfort and belonging and more specifically, the demons that take hold of the mind and soul when these necessities are stripped away from us.
Andrea’s frantic personality is built on throughout the play, beginning from the moment the audience steps into the dark, eerie, isolated room, with Vickers scribbling chalk on the slate slab in the center of the stage. The atmosphere feels hauntingly unwary as the audience take their seats, only for Vickers to change the mood through visionary, chirpy anecdotes of her mother’s melodic singing and the love story of her parent’s meeting. The change in atmosphere, contributed by the lightening, music and pitch of voice, allows Vickers to compel the audience into her dark and twisted yearning for home.
The play swiftly transitions from childhood stories of motherhood and first kisses with Tyron to an isolation of parental supervision and unconditional love. The topic shifts may be frantic but the juxtaposition of Andrea’s reminiscence of the happier days and the struggle of coping with the lack of nobody to rely on helps to establish what the play is truly about.
The play focuses on numerous aspects of struggles, but an important feature that Ridley plays on is perception of women; particularly, the struggles of a girl’s adolescence into adulthood. Social expectations of women’s reliance on men are shown in an extreme light, featuring the topic of rape, the fear and loneliness women endure when there is “not another girl in sight”, and obsessive, traumatising thoughts that every men is an attacker. His extreme expressions on this matter leave the audience questioning what belonging really means and if a companion necessarily equals comfort and home.
Moreover, Dark Vanilla Jungle ultimately expresses the effects of a damaged childhood and an unsupportive home and what the abandonment of this can result in. Dark Vanilla Jungle is insightful interpretation, written and performed in a powerful way to express that it is human nature to crave to have somewhere to belong, with the play ending with Andrea in harmony in ‘the island’ she has always dreamed of being.