Review: Radiant Vermin at UCD DramSoc Theatre

UCD DramSoc put on the show Radiant Vermin at the preview for Irish Student Drama Association (ISDA). Written by Philip Ridley, co-directed by Meadhbh Barry and Lig Kennedy, this satire on prevalent social issues in Ireland is a thought-provoking piece wrapped in a veil of comical performances.

The play starts on an innocent note, with young couple Jill and Ollie (Laura Fleming and Ryan Haran) very much in love and in a new marriage, debating about accepting the offer of a free house in a decrepit neighbourhood, from a clearly suspicious lady called Miss Dee (played by Hayley Dawson). The play takes a dark turn when there is a break-in, and the scene of the first murder, where Ollie is narrating the plot as he is playing out the scenes, is the turning point of the play. With the narration and visualisation running at the same time during these sub-scenes, one almost feels like they’re reading a book. The play was purely humorous before this scene, but after the first murder, the plot takes on a sinister tone. Humorous moments still abound in the play, but they have a morbid undertone thereafter.

The minimal cast and absence of a complex and changing set lends the play a stroke of genius, wherein spectators have to fill in the gaps of visualisation through their own imaginations. However, the play is simple only in mechanics; the message imparted is as serious as can be, that the price paid for human greed can sometimes take too high a toll, but we are resilient in the face of unsatiated want. The young couple, in their drive for more and more, use the well-being of their son as an excuse to murder unsuspecting homeless people to furnish their home. Even as both partners undergo breakdowns at different times in the play, they get over them pretty quickly and carry on. The word “miracle” has been used to describe the instances when a shimmering radiance transforms the cadavers of the murdered folk into beautiful interiors. The monstrosity is reflected in the way the couple remorselessly decides on the murder weapon, and choose a ‘magic wand’, an electricity-spouting contraption used when the to-be-victim gets into the hot bath the couple offers.

“The sheer vehemence of performance by the actors makes the play a true standout”

Another scene of critical note is where Kay, one of the homeless persons “gathered” by Ollie for ‘renovation of their home’ becomes familiar with Jill, and they have a brief friendship before Kay realises she is about to be murdered for the baby’s nursery, yet relents, and moreover is “happy to be of help.” Jill’s short-lived remorse evaporates when she sees the beautiful room Kay has transformed into.

The drama ran for two hours, and it did feel like the show was a tad stretched-out post-interval, but it recovered pretty quickly with the scenes of the child’s birthday party. The party, which has two actors playing the roles of five people each, the other playing six, is an intense ten-minute sequence, with the back-and-forth among the characters dizzying the audience.

The sheer vehemence of performance by the actors makes the play a true standout. From the first scene when we see an innocent young couple, very much in love and in a new marriage, debating about accepting the offer by a clearly suspicious lady of a free house in a decrepit neighbourhood, to the ending when they move on to another neighbourhood even with the knowledge that they’ll have to “double the price” (that is, kill double the people), the actors play their parts perfectly. The play is indeed worthy of the nomination.