Ridley’s career may have been destroyed by negative reviews, but James P Mannion and George Varley have no reason to retire to the woodland cabin just yet. Mannion’s play explores the reality – and the fundamental unreality – of the isolation that many of us, at times, crave.
The play opens with Ridley (Varley) ensconced in his woodland retreat, striving for the peace that will elude him for the duration of the play. Taunted by his ever-present ‘friend’ Clive and pursued by the media, Ridley’s existential crisis provides the backdrop for an amusing reflection on whether we can ever escape the twenty first century and – avoiding cliché – our own problems.
The pace is ideal, managing to avoid the pitfalls of long, unnecessary monologues and a sense of ‘cabin-fever’. A strong cast all round keeps the momentum of the play going and skilfully steers it away from falling into dullness.
Varley as Ridley, and Archie Thomson as Clive, have a strong rapport which provides much of the strongest humour. Varley plays an awkward, naïve and painfully self-aware recluse while Thomson plays the obnoxious realist. The two complement each other perfectly: Varley is a master of the one liners while Thomson’s evocative monologues draw just as many laughs.
The sophistication of the script elicits a great response from the audience – the focused satirisation of society will have the audience chuckling at every opportunity. Perhaps the frequent profanity sometimes misses comedy and becomes grating; it isn’t always convincing that eloquent expressions should be followed by repeated commands to “Fuck off”, especially when for such highly-strung characters it fails to relieve the tension. This is, however, a minor detail which doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the production.
As might be expected, the play deals heavily with the abstract. Things happen, but don’t really happen; we are never entirely sure of what is real and what is taking place in Ridley’s troubled imagination. He tries to “Escape the truth” while constantly reflecting on his life; asserts that he wants to “Burst the material bubble” even as he becomes an internet sensation.
The play ultimately encapsulates disillusion. We soon realise Ridley’s escape can never happen; he swears, shouts and laughs at posturing, but he can never escape the pretensions of his own writing. The play successfully captures disillusion without disillusioning the audience.
One criticism may be that the script never really forces us to think; Ridley’s slightly unhinged perspective makes him difficult to empathise with, but this keeps the play light. Our distance from the futility of the events mean that we are never sucked in to Ridley’s dilemmas.
This production is an excellent slice of escapism – well worth watching for its clever comedy and for its subtle ability to make you consider, without pulling you into a Ridley-like existential crisis. We may never know what the essence of Ridley’s many choices actually is, but it’s certain that seeing this play isn’t a choice you’ll regret.
Ridley’s Choice is playing at the Burton Taylor Studio until 29th November