Writer: by Philip Ridley
Director: Wiebke Green
In the delicate and rare sun of East London, Toni experiences her first kiss. And despite her upbringing and background, happiness flows through her and young love blossoms. But someone has their eye on Toni, and they’re not exactly pleased with how well things are unfolding. And they’re going to do something about it.
Tenuously linked, Tarantula explores the difficulties in escaping the gluttonous and strangling webs we knot ourselves within; all the connections we forge with love, family, experiences, and the shackles which root us to a single place. An intricate concept, but one which never reaches fruition in Philip Ridley’s newest production at The Southwark Playhouse.
Previously, the relationship between Ridley and Southwark results in spectacular demonstrations of raw emotion, poignancy, and commanding stage presence. Perhaps the timing between The Poltergeist and Tarantula collides too closely, but bluntly, Tarantula is at times an excruciating experience of pacing and peculiar delivery. Ridley’s history with the East of London lends credence to the backbone of the narrative, but there’s a distinct lapse in care and understanding from director Wiebke Green that it doesn’t take long before the tears in the spider’s web become intolerable.
There’s a categorical failure in the production’s direction of emotion and annunciation, with the tremendous ability Georgie Henley demonstrates in her ability to recite a complex and lengthy script – with the keyword here being ‘demonstrates’. Henley demonstrates emotions, rather than expresses genuine change or impact, reciting the words of Ridley, failing to conjure a tangible sense of understanding behind the agony and memories Toni experiences. Vocally, the production suffers terribly from audio bleeds; inaudible in sections – painfully overblown in others. Henley isn’t helping herself either, failing to convey anger or frustration without resorting to the baseline of projecting volume to communicate hurt.
Failing to aid in the glacial pacing, Tarantula has a breathtakingly simple set-up with only two or three angle changes and just as few lighting options. It comes over as under-rehearsed or prepared, still in the stages of the line reads rather than a complete package. And just as things begin to drag, and the production has run a survivable course, the lighting finally alters as a peculiar homage to the Mr Bean opening title brings everything to a halt. If only they had followed Rowan Atkinson’s decency to stay silent. Catapulting back to her feet, Henley’s trajectory into the second act furthers the narrative in a tangent that introduces characters with an even weaker sense of identity than that of the earlier part.
Love, gang violence, revenge and moving on – there was promise. This might have been the most significantly harrowing appeal for the production, with a proven writer of sensational capability. Tarantula isn’t able to communicate its narrative effectively. Monologues have had the harshest difficulty with the shift to the digital theatre, with the impact of raw and unfiltered emotion working best in a live setting. And for all those productions that shatter the expectations and defy setbacks, some of them must falter.
Stemming from the concept of a well-spun web tightening around innocent prey with an inability to move on from past mistakes, Tarantula would seem a fitting name. Except Tarantula’s don’t spin webs – they dig holes, and Ridley finds his newest production digging a deep one. With a live performance planned for later in the year, once safe to do so, there’s an opportunity for the fangs of Tarantula to sharpen and adapt to a finer, more steady delivery rather than rushing to punch out emotion.
Runs here until 1 May 2021