In Philip Ridley’s Ghost from a Perfect Place, director Russell Bolam revives this twenty-year-old play for a spectacular and apt arrival at Hackney’s Arcola Theatre. In this incarnation, the audience are quickly familiarised with the dark past of Travis Flood who made a living terrorising the streets of East London back in the ‘heyday’. But don’t be mistaken. Although he was a brute, the streets were much safer during his reign.
Notoriously known in the area as the man in the suit with a lily in his lapel, Travis Flood encounters lovable pensioner, Torchie Sparks when he stops by her scorched kitchen in search of her granddaughter Rio. On this premise, the audience sees Travis and Torchie form a unique bond as they both vividly recount past events from their polar opposite lives.
These nostalgic undertones are rapidly banished in Act Two as we are introduced to Rio’s ditzy, man-hating brood of sidekicks – Miss Kerosene and Miss Sulfur, who collectively call themselves The Disciples. These uncouth cult members dedicate their time to ridding East London of any evil man who has ever taken pleasure in exploiting vulnerable girls. Armed with their sermons and strength of faith in their god (and Rio’s dead mother), Saint Donna, these girls are about pure female empowerment through violence.
After a quick SOS signal from Rio when Mr Flood refuses to pay for any sexual encounters, The Disciples stagger into Torchie’s kitchen ready to rip Mr Flood apart and as the old terror meets the new, it’s quickly made clear that Travis Flood has no respect for their pathetic attempt at intimidation. Even when the group have him tied to a chair, burning cigars on his face, Mr Flood remains defiant and unrepentant in a desperate attempt to hold on to his hard-nut persona.
Ghost from a Perfect Place is extremely captivating, with beautiful performances from all the cast. However, it would have been nice if the second act explored the motivation of The Disciples in greater depth instead of rapidly firing on through with only a short sentence of dialogue to justify their bitter characters.
The ending will leave you feeling uncomfortable, but overall light sprinkles of humour throughout the play offer some much needed comic relief from the heavy subject matter which is, unfortunately, still culturally relevant twenty years on.
Ghost from a Perfect Place is running at the Arcola Theatre until Saturday 11th October, and you can buy tickets here.
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