It takes a lot to unanimously grip an audience; even more so when there’s only one woman on stage. But Philip Ridley’s Dark Vanilla Jungle did just that. Performed by the exceptionally talented Gemma Whelan (best known for her roles as Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones and Rachel in One Man Two Guvnors), this 80 minute monologue told the traumatic story of Andrea, a young girl beaten repeatedly by the harsh sting of betrayal and loneliness, exploited and rejected by all those she ever loved.
Dark Vanilla Jungle delved into the uncomfortable and frighteningly real issues ever present in society; gang rape, incestuous relations, mentally abusive parents and the darker depths of the human psyche. Despite the incredibly serious subject matter, subtle humour throughout kept the mood in the room rapidly changing; a nice touch, seeing as Andrea’s mindset did quite the same.
It was a tough 80 minutes; Whelan’s poignant portrayal of Andrea was so spot on that it left the audience reeling. Despite there only being one actor on stage – no set, no props – the whole audience was there, peering in on this fragile girl’s life as it rapidly untangled. In all honesty, you didn’t need set or props: if anything, they would have totally deterred from the mesmerizing words of Ridley. One of the most beautiful elements of the production (and commented on by Director David Mercatali after the show) was that each and every member of the audience was given the tools to create their own version of the play. Every one of us had a different idea of all the characters in the play, all the locations; it was quite an overwhelming experience, and gave us all a sense of control that Andrea did not have.
The drama and story gradually built up throughout the production, until a climatic twist that left the audience on the edge of their seats. It was one of those moments where I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t look away. I was totally immersed in the spellbinding performance, the delightfully intelligent direction and of course the powerful, thought-provoking script.
I was left in total awe as the lights went down on Whelan. The first professional monologue I have ever had the pleasure to see, Dark Vanilla Jungle affected me in a way that I have never been affected before. Everything was en pointe, intoxicating and all consuming. A beautiful experience.