Not for the faint-hearted, Benny Ainsworth’s Vermin is perhaps the most disturbing piece of theatre in London today. You cannot help but have a physically visceral reaction to this play, and yet you cannot look away. This Triptych Theatre production is playing at the Arcola Theatre until April 1st, starring Sally Paffett as Rachel and Benny Ainsworth as Billy. 

Rachel and Billy seem at first glance like a normal, love-struck couple; however, as a rat problem develops in their small flat, we quickly see their relationship crumble in the most disturbing, gut-wrenching ways possible. Ainsworth and Paffett are so phenomenal in their roles that I often found myself forgetting that this was just a piece of theatre, feeling as though I was actually caught up in a real couple’s argument at numerous points in the play. Their emotion is brought so closely to the surface that you cannot help but become totally immersed in their anger, pain, and love. Ainsworth as Billy channels a constant level of horror throughout, seemingly in complete control of it, holding it back in some areas, only to fully unleash it in others, puppeteering the audience’s emotions with ease. Paffett at first seems to bring a lighter side to this piece, as Rachel attempts time and time again to diffuse the anger Ainsworth brings to the play, and yet she gives some of the most emotionally devastating scenes of all, leaving the audience breathless in the tragic final moments of the play. 

​One of the most intriguing aspects of the play was the simplicity of its set design, consisting of nothing more than two chairs on an empty stage. Despite this barebones structure, this in no way limits the play, as the actors do not need to rely on their surroundings to draw the audience into their story. If anything, the lack of staging only makes the play seem all the more real, as it complements the idea that Billy and Rachel are retelling a traumatic story to a group of friends, as opposed to us watching it all play out in real time. There is nothing to distract us from the characters themselves, adding to the play’s intense intimacy. The set is also amplified by Alex Lewer’s lighting design, which subtly draws us further into the mental psyche of both Billy and Rachel respectively. The further they spiral, the more sombre and menacing the lighting becomes. Every detail in this play is intentional. 

​Overall, Vermin masterfully combines humour and the grotesque in a way that is so chilling, you feel like a completely changed person after viewing it. I would warn not to take its content warnings lightly – this play is incredibly intense and should not be viewed nonchalantly. You need to be in the right headspace to see this. Either way, this play will stick with you, whether you want it to or not.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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