Sunday, 19 August 2012

On Philip Ridley and Tender Napalm


The plays of Philip Ridley: the Marquis de Sade meets Liberace. That's not me, that's an American critic whose name escapes me, but it's not a bad description.

I begin rehearsals tomorrow for Ridley's Tender Napalm, for La Boite Theatre Company and Brisbane Festival.

To think of Ridley is to think of violence and beauty. His first play, The Pitchfork Disney (1991), produced at London's Bush Theatre, included images of cockroach eating, finger breaking, snake frying and penis scraping. It's a brilliant work, and heralded what later became known as 'In-Yer-Face Theatre', a whole genre of mostly British '90s playwriting that includes work by Antony Neilson, Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Jez Butterworth, Martin McDonagh and many others. World-beating theatre.         

I have never found violence in Ridley's plays to be pointless. Ridley himself has pointed out that travelling Indian magicians would rip the heads off live birds while, at the same time, they pulled an ace from their sleeve. The shock prepares the audience for the perception of magic. In Ridley's world, violence is often used, as well as in a purely narrative sense, to electrify sensibilities and create space for other sensations. 

Ridley is an eclectic artist. He had his own theatre group when he was six, completed his first novel by seven, and had his first solo art exhibition at 14. He began a degree in Fine Art at St Martin's School of Art at 17. He began making experimental films there, and has continued doing so. He knew and worked with the 'Brit Pack' of young artists such as Damien Hirst who were beginning to attract notice. Hirst, of course, became famous for a series of artworks in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved—sometimes having been dissected—in formaldehyde. Ridley's sensibilities were similar, but he chose the theatre as his principal platform.

He also collects stamps.