Dark Vanilla Jungle

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Richard Birch

at 22:48 on 12th Aug 2016

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A powerful, unforgettable and utterly compelling experience that often left the viewer confused; 'Dark Vanilla Jungle' is a monologue given by a victim of abuse. She breaks, tells extended tangents, shivers, rubs her hands together in some modern day reflection of Lady Macbeth in her guilt ridden neuroticism, screams and even performs one of the most convincing panic attacks this reviewer has seen on the stage.

In short, this was a tour-de-force for Aea Varfis-van Warmelo, playing a multi-faceted, complex and difficult character with such consummate ease that the audience was left constantly hooked and wanting more. The opening first half rises from trauma to trauma with such delicately handled tension to expertly make the building shock all the worse; rising to stomach-turning and flinch-worthy moments. The innermost thoughts of her psyche are spilt from her as from a confessor to her torturer, revealing her desire to once ‘poke out the child’s eyes’. The scarring height of the play however has to be the scene in which the betrayal of her beloved boyfriend becomes horrifically apparent.

This ties into a prevalent undercurrent of the monologue being a deep-seated anger at male hatred and sexual violence. Though a deeply complicated play, elements of feminist critique did seem to filter through. However, the ultimate air of the play is not didacticism but despair. The pain that comes through every line owing to the fantastic performance is moving, harrowing and even at times oddly comic – the character’s emphasis on mundane detail such as the crumbs on people’s lips providing a sense of the scarred humanity of the character.

A clear flaw however was confusion – by its very nature (its subject matter of insanity) the play veers between clarity and surreality so swiftly that it often becomes difficult to keep track of what is real and what is not. The second half of the play in particular becomes unclear. Only vague threads of plot can be followed from the first to the second half. However, the impassioned delivery of the monologue allows even this (possibly disastrous) flaw to not matter too much, as the sentiment, power and poignancy of the play is maintained despite this admitted confusion.

It is a shame that this lack of clarity hampers the performance because it is a potent, brilliant and captivating piece of theatre with an urgent and traumatising storyline.

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Coreen Grant

at 09:24 on 13th Aug 2016

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This one-woman performance is incredibly difficult to watch, and intentionally so. Sitting in an extremely intimate room with only eight other people, actress Aea Varfis-van Warmelo playing Andrea embarks on an hour-long monologue which covers a lifetime.

Threading together snapshot memories, her account begins as clear and relatively sane, but descends into an unstable crescendo of crushing anxiety, fear, and suffering. While Philip Ridley’s script folds into a confusing mass of obscurity, Warmelo’s performance is a constant source of relatable agony. Her stellar acting is profoundly touching and undeniably human.

Andrea’s life centres around her desire to be loved and cared for, and the play explores her inevitable reality of being denied those crucial needs. The acting is direct and purposefully awkward, impossible to ignore and impossible not to sympathise with. She is charming, with moments of crippling uncertainty and self-consciousness playing against her desire to get history off of her chest. Weaving in and out of the audience, the actress succeeds in a sort of dialogue between the speaker and the listeners, often directly addressing them: this lifelike portrayal makes the story intensely real and entirely believable.

Theatre company Fear No Colours claims to dedicate themselves to experiential and visceral performances, and Dark Vanilla Jungle certainly fitted that bill. The play is driven by deep, insatiable emotions rather than logical thought, which results in an often confusing and disorienting plot. Dramatic changes of pace prevent the monologue from becoming a tirade, but the perplexing storyline arguably hampers the outstanding acting. Despite this, Ridley’s script remains a poignant and unflinching study of the agony of one girl and her increasing inability to cope with the world.

The purpose of Andrea’s narrative is supposedly to tell the truth, but at the close of the play when Andrea’s baby is born and the audience is expecting the initial question – what did she do to her baby – to be answered, the play is at its most obscure. It seems to move in a circular motion, bringing up past characters and ending on a note of uncertainty. For some, this element of irresolution would tarnish the experience, but it also speaks volumes about the ongoing struggle of Andrea’s – and others' – quest to find love.

Finishing abruptly and left alone, the audience is stuck in a long moment of hesitation followed by fervent applause – a homage to the actress, whose performance is exceptional and heart-wrenching.

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