Barbara Hodgson speaks to the author of an explosive drama opening in Newcastle tomorrow for a two-night run.
SEARCH for Philip Ridley’s name online and – besides a rather scary picture of him in a pork pie hat – you’ll find such a wealth of information that you’ll struggle to get a handle on the man.
The 47-year-old Londoner started out as an artist and performance artist, and is variably described as a painter, photographer, director, playwright and author of children’s books.
Critics have heaped praise upon his recent plays yet those glowing reviews don’t quite seem to get to the nitty-gritty of what they’re about.
The online blurb for Tender Napalm, his play coming to Northern Stage tomorrow, talks about “re-setting the auditorium into traverse” before going on to tell us: “the audience face each other on either side of this intimate, explosive and poetic exploration of love in the face of catastrophe”, while a promotional clip is all pulsating music and multiple, almost subliminal, images of warfare, bullets, a baby in womb, aliens and fish.
So when I actually get to talk to the award-winning Ridley about his work, it comes as a relief to find that not only is he the opposite of scary but he also makes his work perfectly easy to understand.
“In essence, it’s a very simple theatrical story: a man and a woman locked at a crucial point in their relationship,” he says of Tender Napalm. “They love each other but something terrible’s happened.”
That terrible incident, whatever it is, and whether the couple can resolve it during their momentous emotional journey, is what powers the two-hander drama that so excited critics during its London run ahead of its current tour.
The reaction was, says Ridley, “a very happy surprise”.
“You can never predict, you never know what is going to happen.
“With a stage play you never know what you’ve got until it’s in front of an audience.
“But with this, from that first night, we got the feeling we were on to something a bit special.
“From day one there were ecstatic reactions.”
It is, he thinks, “very accessible to anybody who has been in a relationship”. Yet there’s no elaborate staging, scenery, dramatic lighting or smoothed-out edges: just two actors, the power of Ridley’s words and the audience.
“I really stripped everything back so it’s a play where two actors sit at either end of a bare stage and that’s it.
“It’s pared-down and rests on words and performance and when that really works I think it’s a thrilling thing.”