Review: All that shivers is not gold

Ghost from a Perfect Place Bolton Octagon Studio
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Philip Ridley's plays can certainly get things started. The grungy fortress flat and its demented sibling inhabitants were immediately arresting in Pitchfork Disney - seen here last year in director Lawrence Till's on- going commitment to Ridley's work - and Ghost from a Perfect Place opens both halves with similarly fascinating images.

An old lady, Torchie Sparks (Ann Rye), sits in a chair mithering at a bandage on her leg. Her flat - a superb design by Jocelyn Meall - is a charred wreck with soot-grimed electric cables snaking across the floor and hanging in threatening festoons like some strange urban lianas. A man enters bearing three large lilies and sporting another in his buttonhole. His suit is fake smart - shot silk be claims - but then he would swear his hair really is that black. He is looking for Rio, Torchie's grand- daughter whom he has met, as she does all her men, in the graveyard nearby. He complains that the area is not as it was in "the heydays". Kids have put a dead cat in the arms of the stone angel down there.

When we come back after the interval, the man, Travis Flood (Christopher Wilkinson), is tied to a chair, the prisoner of Rio and two other girls. They are touching up their make-up - panda mascara and predatory red lipstick. They are identically clad in gold-lame mini-skirts, fishnets and skimpy tops. "Bimbos in kitchen-foil", Travis contemptuously calls them. With some large scissors visible, an electric fire burning and Miss Kerosene's preoccupation with bleach, it looks like something nasty is in the offing.

I dwell on beginnings because, as with Pitchfork Disney, I feel Ridley has the makings of excitingly interesting work but not the capacity to develop it dramatically. Besides these early excitements, the piece displays a fistful of promising motifs gathered round newly buzzy topics like identity and objection - especially of the male - and older, dronier ones like quilt and retribution. A skewed religious discourse is also prominent: the lilies, a crucifix, and the girls' Ten Commandments ("6. Wear gold togs. 7. Piss on men.") and nun-like devotion to Rio's dead mother "St Donna".

But for all the incipient threat, both halves eventually become simply boring. The first half, especially, lacks pace, even anxiety about that boiling water can't sustain interest in such interminable tea-making - and only the exceptional, raw energy of Stephanie Buttle's performance as the damaged and dangerous Rio keeps the second half alive. It is significant that Ridley so relies on half-enacted recollection. Characters spend so much time telling us what happened years ago because there is so little left to happen.

In Pitchfork Disney Cosmo says that he and his accomplice in body-horror are answering "man's need for the shivers". It is an obscure and interesting need, but here it is merely leaned on for dramatic tension, not explored, and the topics that do engage him remain smudgily out of focus.

`Ghost from a Perfect Place' runs until 11 April; 01204 529407

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