The Southwark Playhouse has been a firm supporter of polymath Philip Ridley’s work in recent years, and he returns to this venue with his latest, amazing, new play, which stars Olivia Poulet, best known for her role as the Emma Messinger character in BBC4’s political satire The Thick of It.
Joseph Drake (Ryan) and Olivia Poulet (Lyn) in Shivered at Southwark Playhouse, London Photo: Helen Murray
Spanning some 20 years in the fictional Essex new town of Draylingstowe, Shivered looks at the lives of two families. Mikey is a car worker who is married to Lyn, and the couple have two kids. The older one, Alec, grows up as the town is suffering from industrial decline and he has to join the army.
The 12-year-old son, Ryan, whose hands have been deformed because of the chemicals used in the car plant, befriends a boy called Jack, who lives with his single mum and is a victim of bullying. Meanwhile, after tragedy strikes her son Alec and her husband disappears, Lyn meets Gordy, a young man who hustles at the local fairground.
Instead of telling this story in a straight linear way, Ridley chops it up into 17 scenes which are shown out of sequence. The effect is that of watching an elaborate account of extreme emotional experience, where the intensity of feeling has ruptured time itself. In part, this reflects the obsessions of some of the characters with sci-fi; in part, it keeps the audience glued to the narrative.
Directed with clarity and flair by Russell Bolam, on Anthony Lamble’s bare set, Shivered is brilliantly performed. Olivia Poulet’s Lyn is by turns charming, maternal, sexy and devastated, while Joseph Drake’s Ryan and Joshua Williams’ Jack are both excellent. Andrew Hawley’s charismatic Gordy dominates the stage. Robbie Jarvis’s Alec, Simon Lenegan’s Mikey and Amanda Daniels as Jack’s mum are equally convincing. This is the most exciting piece of new writing on the London stage.