David Hennessy talks to Gemma Whelan, known from playing Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, as Radiant Vermin comes to Soho Theatre
Known as the bold leader of the Ironborn Yara Greyjoy in Game of Thrones, HBO’s fantasy drama, audiences can see actress Gemma Whelan fighting other forces in a new play that focuses on the housing crisis..
In Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin, Gemma and Sean Michael Verey play Jill and Ollie, a young professional couple who have bought their dream home. Some of the things they did to get it may shock but they tell the audience they did it all for the good of their baby.
“It’s the price they pay and what lengths they’ll go to,” Gemma explains. “It’s a great piece of satire really about the state we’re in. It’s certainly fictional but it’s sort of Charlie Brooker-esque in it’s whole dark imagination.”
With the average price of three bedroom houses at the million pound mark, the play is timely and Gemma knows how rooted in reality it is: “It’s strange, I am currently trying to buy a house and Sean is about to have a baby so both of us are dealing with changes in our lives which come up within the play.
“I’m astounded how difficult it is to buy a house because even if you might be in a position to buy, there are ten other people in the same position so it’s basically a character analysis and who can drop the biggest amount of money at the right time. It’s disgusting.
“But I don’t think either of us will ever do quite what Jill and Oliver get up to in the play. If we end up doing that, we’re in trouble.”
Gemma has acted for writer Ridley and director David Mercatali in the very successful Dark Vanilla Jungle: “They’re the only ones who will employ me. Only joking.”
In the previous Ridley play, Gemma won a Scotsman Fringe First Award and was nominated for the Stage Award for Acting Excellence for her solo performance as a girl craving for family and home that makes her susceptible to being groomed for abuse: “We must have all done something right because Dark Vanilla Jungle went very well and it’s nice, because I did a monologue before, to have other people in a play.
Dark Vanilla Jungle really involved drawing on some quite difficult imaginings. It took a great deal out of me and while I wouldn’t change it, I had such a wonderful time and it was very well received, I’m quite happy this is a comedy. I had to shake it off with a bath and a cup of tea and a call to my mum. This one’s much, much easier to shake off.”
Would Gemma have had to think about it if Radiant Vermin had been as dark as the previous Ridley play? “I would, but I would go for it. I quite like all that dark, interesting, soul searching stuff. It’s wonderful if you can get up on stage and say some words that move people and move you at the same time. I think that’s incredibly powerful, that’s what theatre should be so I do jump at the chance of doing those things but equally it’s quite nice to have an auditorium full of giggling public. As long as it’s affecting people, I’m on board. Even if I have to go to a dark place.”
Philip Ridley specialises in the darker areas of human psyche. Although the two plays are different in style and genre, they share this: “It(Radiant Vermin)’s not as dark but it’s hugely portentous I think just like Dark Vanilla Jungle really in terms of it’s just a few degrees away from what you imagine people will do. Even though it’s fiction and fantastical, it’s frighteningly believable that people can be pushed and stretched to, in Dark Vanilla Jungle, certain depravity and with Radiant Vermin, levels of desire and greed.
“Morals and conscience are drawn into it and where do you draw your line? It’s quite interesting how we’re probably all guilty of the fact that our line is moveable, depending on what we might and might not be able to gain from things so it’s quite a deep reflection of the darker part of the human psyche.”
Gemma can be seen reprising her other role when Game of Thrones returns for its fifth series in April. Last time around, Yara realised during a daring rescue attempt that there was nothing left of her brother Theon, played by Alfie Allen, who had been enslaved and emasculated: “She’s defeated for now. We’ll see where she goes, where she ends up. I think the fans have got lots to look forward to in series five.
“Poor old Alfie. He spent all day in those kennels when we were doing that scene with the dogs. The poor thing. But he’s an incredible actor, he’s wonderful and a fantastic person. I’ve really lucked out with my colleagues on that.”
It’s hard to know how the saga ends especially as the last two books have yet been written yet but could Yara be on the iron throne by the end? Gemma laughs: “Sure, why not?
“Why wouldn’t it? I can’t think of anyone more appropriate, can you? Who else? I think you’ve had a great idea. I’m sure we won’t get much further than you and me in the fan club for that.”
Radiant Vermin plays at Soho Theatre until April 12. For more information, go to http://www.sohotheatre.com/.
Game of Thrones returns to Sky Atlantic on April 13.