Intense, sparse and confronting, Dark Vanilla Jungle is in every sense a discomforting night of theatre.
A monologue stretched over 90 minutes, Philip Ridley’s play as performed by Claudia Barrie covers any number of distressing and emotional issues including abuse, assault, abandonment and loss as re-told from the sole character’s perspective, confined in a barely habitable and mostly empty room. Involving the participation of a number of crew including two directors, the performance is intricately choreographed with clear movement corresponding to just about every line of the often very fast-paced dialogue.
Separated from her audience by a thin wall of plastic delineating her confinement, the barrier for the bulk of the play enlivens a very physical sense of on-set tension. The disconnect is nicely complemented by two cameras from within her confines, blaring images out to viewers on adjoining screens, which the protagonist often uses to effect by speaking to the audience directly. Making little use of the props and few items in the enclosure, there’s actually very little point in their being there at all.
With several compelling sections, at 90 minutes the play is nonetheless too long and could easily have been shortened to centre the action on its most intriguing aspects, many of which take place in the latter half of the production. The style of narration, where it is unclear to what extent the storyteller is professing an entirely accurate account of events either to herself or the audience, a technique mastered by Nabokov, is one of the more interesting aspects of the piece.
Filled with slightly lighter moments which incidentally ease the tension, these reprieves become much less frequent as the play progresses, piling on tense moments after emotional encounters, ultimately lessening the impact of what is still a harrowing finale. What could have been less compelling in the hands of a minimally talented performer is carried well by Barrie who manages to hold the audience’s rapt attention for much of what is an unfortunately lengthy yet engrossing production.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
By Philip Ridley
Performed by Claudia Barrie
Directed by Fiona Hallenan-Barker and Emma Louise
Old 505 Theatre – 505/342 Elizabeth St, Surry Hills
Part of Sydney Fringe Festival 2015
1-12 September – Tue to Sat 8.30pm