Ripe, ‘loosely based on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, is adapted from a complex dystopian story into a play lasting under an hour. Ripe is fast paced, and leads with a strong cast. The writing itself stands alone whilst adding a contemporary facet to this world famous text. Staged at Croydon’s Theatre Utopia, it may seem a bit of a distance, yet it’s only a short train ride from either London Bridge or Waterloo. The quality of this production is definitely worth the visit.
Blond hair and a youthful face belongs to Misha. Her counterpart is a black refugee, someone who appreciates a roommate with whom she can communicate. Misha dreams of a future with her family, juxtaposed with an envious and ashamed Rachel. She attempts to hide her loneliness instead focusing on the possibility of having citizenship. Together they express a youthful outlook while longing for something very different – but what must be sacrificed for safety and happiness?
Misha’s immediate presence around male professionals predicts forthcoming events. Couples appear yet soon become apparitions. Doctors, instead of following any oath, bond excessively with their chosen women.
Dr Mark Stewart (Alexander Toll), aims to solve Misha’s predicament once the Count and his Countess (Jason Plessas/Victoria Grace) aim to take their business elsewhere. Misha’s existence at last fulfils a bigger purpose. Who in this play will act with integrity and will any person’s desire be fulfilled?
Gwynne and Victoria Sheldon are the co-directors, which for some productions can be problematic – but not in this instance. The childbirth scene stirs discomfort to such extent that it becomes impossible to watch. Grace’s performance here is outstanding; for any future run, the possibility to see this ‘in the round’ could have the potential to induce distress on a larger scale.
Chemistry between the infertile couple reflects that of a partnership revolving around social activities, it is almost impossible to not recall the original Commander and his wife Serena. Plessas’s representation of the upper class is almost caricature like, something achieved with irony. Partnered with Grace, both give the characters much vivacity.
At ease and appearing considerate is Alexander Toll’s Dr Stewart, that is until his motives become apparent. Misha’s effect on Dr Youseffi (Jamal Chong) is clear yet Stewart’s insidious mind is played with effective plotting. Much dialogue expresses his abuse yet his character lacks depth – the only main character without a background. During Toll’s last appearance, he captures the essence of his character with one final malevolent action – one that would end any optimistic soul.
Foremost, Ripe’s success is due to its simplicity. Significant aspects of a complicated novel have been drawn out and I imagine that extensive workshop and rehearsal processes are the reason behind this. Considering this is a new production, Ripe never gives the impression of anything less than a totally professionally put together show. Sound design is effectively put to use, matching feelings with specific music. During repetitive blood tests, the sound of being put on hold prolongs. Classical music then elongates moments of mundane daily existence.
Ripe is scheduled to be shown at @themilespace – Edinburgh from 21-26th August. See it there if you miss the Croydon season.