The title of James P Mannion’s new play Ridley’s Choice is somewhat deceptive. Because in reality Ridley makes a whole multitude of choices. George Ridley is a failed playwright and a failing father. When an eminent critic slates his latest play he chooses to up sticks and live in the woods, renouncing technology and the ‘material world’. One day a young local boy films him ranting about modern society and reciting the beginning of his pseudo-philosophical new book — also called Ridley’s Choice — making him into a minor Youtube sensation. When the media hunt him down, he chooses to let them interview him. Getting more and more caught up in his illusory fame, he makes one last fateful choice….
George Varley as Ridley has all the traits of a tortured writer experiencing an extreme form of mid-life crisis, while Archie Thomson gives an energetic performance in his role as Ridley’s mysterious friend, Clive. Although this play undoubtedly revolves around these two characters (or are they really two separate characters?), the supporting roles are equally strong: for example, Ali Ackland-Snow is by turn seductive and unnerving as the journalist who never strays from her industry speak, and James P Mannion is wonderfully irritating as the local youth who takes a video of Ridley — “mate” — on his iPhone.
The script intermingles the existential with the mundane — “Do bears shit in the woods? And if so, will they respect that this is a residential area?”, Ridley humorously ponders. It raises bold issues about our age: the inescapability of technology, the shallowness of the press, the dangerous allure of fame. This story, in which almost every character is a divorcé, also makes a profound comment on the viability of lasting marriage in modern society.
The themes and tropes are familiar but knowingly so: during the relentlessly fast-paced interview scene Ridley is accused of acting out a Walden-esque fantasy, and the character of Polly is an obvious nod to hacky Murdochian style of journalism. It is satirical without being moralistic and there are no real goodies or baddies. In addition, the fourth wall is well and truly broken when Ridley starts a rant about how in his play ‘characters come in when you least expect them to just to drive the plot along’ and is interrupted by the timely entrance of his daughter.
The play will be set in the intimate Burton Taylor theatre with a semi-thrust stage, which will create a claustrophobic space, evocative of the small woodland enclave. The experimental lighting will create a fluid sense of time, which will make it impossible to gage how long Ridley has been in his forest hideout and establish the all-important dissonance between fantasy and reality. The bathetic ending leaves the audience with plenty of questions, including the extent to which the drama has merely been playing out in Ridley’s imagination.
With tickets at just a fiver, this play is definitely worth a see. Not only because original student writing deserves support, but also because it looks bloody good.
Ridley’s Choice will be on at the BT from November 25-29 at 7.30.