A couple of years ago, Philip Ridley said in an interview that his plays were “like tuning forks” that “vibrate with whatever’s going on in the atmosphere at the time.”
If you ask me, he was some way up his own arse when he said that – though that’s not to say a bit of self-importance is necessarily a bad thing. But when it comes to Angry, his new set of six monologues, it’s hard to deny that it does throb with the rhythm of the time we’re living in.
It’s a solid 90 minutes of very intense entertainment that gives its two young actors the space to dazzle with their technical skills and emotional range. Though Ridley’s script is full of pizzazz, there’s nothing here that’s going to change the face of theatre, let alone society, but there’s one big talking point: the format.
The six monologues – titled Angry, Okay, Bloodshot, Dancing, Now and Air – vary wildly in length and style. Both actors, Georgie Henley and Tyrone Huntley, have learned all six parts, and take it it turn to do the odd- and even-numbered segments. And I suspect most people will leave wondering what any of them have to do with each other.
After a bit of strained effort, I decided the answer was little: each is its own thing and the play is a box of eggs, except that the eggs are lumps of coal, Fitbits and Boeing 747s. If there is any thematic link, it’s that each piece draws in some way on the unexploded mines scattered through our society. For me, Ridley’s tuning fork on this occasion chimed with the howls of anger and intolerance that have made the internet such a goddamned-fucking-shit-show of late.
Each of the six pieces is very different in tone to the one before; almost all of it moves at a rapid pace, both in how the storylets unfold, and the literal speed of the spoken word. The first two monologues – each of which communicates a state of mind, and lacks a story – are like an indoor fireworks display in their expressions of phenomenal rage and anxiety, respectively. From the third piece – a dry-witted tale of passion and judgmentalism – the intensity drops a little, but the play remains thoroughly caffeinated.
Dancing and Now are short enough to feel like interludes, but the final piece, Air, takes up almost half the total running time and could almost have stood as a play in its own right. In it, the protagonist – who we meet in a desperate, life-threatening situation – recounts how they got together with their boyfriend and built a life, all while the world began to fall apart in the background.
After a series of amuse-bouches and hors d’oeuvre, Air is very much the main course, and while it’s filling and tasty, it is hardly Heston Blumenthal fare. It feels derivative, calling to mind, in varying ways, The Handmaid’s Tale (TV series more so than book), Sarah Kane’s Blasted, Caryl Churchill’s Far Away, Ridley’s own Mercury Fur, and countless stories from the likes of Doctor Who.
But if the material is only middling, it really is elevated by the performances. Both actors do a stellar job of capturing the blunt fury, intensity and sadness in Ridley’s writing, while always making the absolute most of the surprisingly large number of comic zingers. The standout in this performance is Henley, who gets the plum even-numbered monologues, including Air. But Huntley is good enough is his parts – especially as the conceited teenager in Bloodshot – that I am very tempted to go back and see the remix version.
Angry is on until 10 March 2018 at the Southwark Playhouse. Click here for more details.