The Theatreguide.London Review
A Perfect Place
Arcola Theatre Autumn 2014
A hardman from the golden age of East End crime returns to his old turf twenty-five years later and discovers that the neighbourhood is now ruled and terrorised by a gang of feral young women with none of the style and flair he and his associates prided themselves on. Has the criminal world decayed so far, or was it never all that civilised to begin with?
Philip Ridley's 1994 drama really has very little to say that's new, except for questioning the romanticised myths of the past. But it says it with an inventiveness and energy that carry the evening and are attractions in themselves.
Everyone in the play – the veteran criminal, three members of the girl gang and an older woman who has lived through both eras – takes turns telling stories in such elaborate and living detail that their listeners get caught up in them, reacting as if the events were taking place here and now.
And that is so skilfully done and so entertaining that episode after episode that happened in some other time and place becomes more real and engrossing to us than much of what goes on here in this room.
The old lady tells of her life in the intervening years, the criminal describes his luxurious retirement, the gang leader recounts a mystical experience that set her on her life of crime – and the fact that none of these stories proves to be precisely accurate or true hardly matters. The real fun of the play lies in those tales and our fascination with how fascinating they are.
There is a plot of sorts, and a couple of surprise revelations, at least one of which you'll guess an hour or more before it comes. But the play lives in the colourful characters, the vibrant and evocative language and the repeated demonstration of the power of storytelling.
Effectively directed by Russell Bolam, veterans Sheila Reid and Michael Feast play the older generation with consummate ease, while Florence Hall, Scarlett Brookes and Rachel Redford invest the girls with a surprisingly touching mix of danger, ignorance and innocence.
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