The gaudy excesses of Jamie Lloyd’s recent West End revivals of The Maids and Dr Faustus give way to something less flamboyant and more insidious in his staging of Philip Ridley’s influential 1991 play. It’s a nightmarish fairytale about abandoned children, starring Bafta-nominated Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake) and George Blagden as the 28-year-old chocoholic Stray twins, Haley and Presley, whose parents disappeared a decade earlier.
Squires, whose character is haunted by an incident from childhood, is a febrile, eye-drawing presence. Haley may spend much of the play half asleep, but Squires ensures she is not sidelined: she is the motor of the unfolding action as if her very dreams are driving the story. Blagden is very fine, too, nervy, repressed and full of yearning.
Less is always more in Soutra Gilmour’s deceptively cosy and claustrophobic design, in which the audience settle on a selection of higgledy piggledy chairs like children waiting to hear a tale in the dark. But bedtime stories can be very scary – and invoke night monsters rather than keeping them at bay.
That’s the case in this claustrophobic flat where agoraphobic Haley spends her days and nights in a medicated haze of constant anxiety, cared for by the brother who goes out on chocolate-seeking forays. He brings back medicine and apocalyptic stories of a known world being scorched away.Facebook Twitter Pinterest Hayley Squires and George Blagden as twins Presley and Haley Stray. Photograph: Matt Humphrey
But as their refuge turns into a self-made prison, Presley invites danger inside in the form of Cosmo Disney (Tom Rhys Harries), an alluringly pretty, cockroach-eating flash Harry who can’t bear to be touched. He promptly vomits all over the carpet but leaves a far greater stain on the twins’ lives. Rhys Harries’s peroxide-quiffed Cosmo hides behind the fake glitter of his red-sequined jacket like a naughty but dangerous boy who knows he’s going to be found out and doesn’t care.
There are shades here of Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle, and Pinter with extra menace, but Ridley’s play, with its surreal fantasies, has an edgy, alarming potency of its own, the writing unfettered by any expectations of how a play should be. It is brought exhilaratingly alive by Lloyd, who gets to its dark, meaty, soiled heart as the imagined (and unimaginable) spills into reality.
It’s not a comfortable evening, and the sustained verbal flourishes can be taxing. But it’s always vivid and the visions of a world of threats skittering towards apocalypse now seem less weird, and more frighteningly believable, than they did in 1991. In days like these, the instinct is to close the door and hunker down in the hope that the monsters won’t touch us. But as Ridley’s play shows, they will find us and worm their way in.
- At Shoreditch Town Hall, London, until 18 March. Box office: 020-7739 6176.
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