SALT LAKE CITY — Radiant Vermin, written by Philip Ridley, now playing at Salt Lake Acting Company, is a comedy about British couple Jill (played by Sophie White) and her husband Ollie (played by Mack Barr) who jokingly refer to themselves as the underclass, when they receive a hand delivered letter offering them a free home. The play, directed by Camden Barrett, is an exploration of gentrification, class and homelessness as Jill and Ollie justify murder in order to have a beautiful, picture perfect home.

Show closes January 14, 2023.

The set itself is very bare. On each side of the room there is furniture with sheets draped over them, and a large, single sheet is the only prop. The performance lacks any frills – there are no props, aside from the sheet, there is no change of lighting ever, and there is no music or sound effects at all. The entire play rests on the shoulders its small cast, with White and Barr playing most of the characters in this twisted story.

Barrett’s directing shines brightest during the garden party scene. Although it felt like filler in an otherwise concise script, it was also the best opportunity to hear Barr and White do Scottish, Irish and British accents (coached by Sarah Shippobothom) as they rotated through an array of characters. In addition to the accents, each character had their own distinct gestures to help distinguish them. For example, the teens Tristan and Tina are depicted as somewhat monstrous as both actors hunch over, their arms and hands twisted like tiny T-Rex arms, as they spew their lines. There is my favorite Scottish couple, Brand and Mitch, who stood back to back whenever they spoke, and each actor would do an exaggerated cat walk (because Brand and Mitch were catalogue models!) that was funny each time.

The production itself is about raising awareness around homelessness in Utah, but it offer little perspective from homeless people. Everything is told from Jill and Ollie’s point of view, who have discovered that when they kill people in specific rooms, they’re renovated. The dehumanization the couple perpetuates is highlighted when they refer to their murder victims as “Renovators.” Jill, who has embodied a bit of Lady Macbeth, pushes her husband to go out and find homeless people that he has to kill on his own, as Jill does not want to actually see the murders happen. And right before this scene, Jill has a monologue that downward spirals into her hating homeless people, working herself up into a frenzy about how disposable they are.

Left to right: Stephanie White as Jill, and Mack Barr as Ollie. Photo: Stephanie Dunn for Basin + Range Photography

The play only has one homeless person with a name (Kay, played by Griz Siebeneck) whose impact on the characters and story is non-existent. Despite Jill temporarily getting over her disgust of homeless people, in the end, Kay happily agrees to be murdered to renovate their unborn child’s nursery. She even kisses Jill on the forehead before going to her death.

The play draws heavily from Macbeth. At the garden party, Ollie begins to have a sort of mental breakdown that Jill attempts to hide from guests. Later, Jill begins seeing things while she is alone in the house. Yet, the play is not Shakespearean. Unlike in Macbeth, where both villainous characters die, in Radiant Vermin, there is no revenge fantasy against the sort of people who have no qualms gentrifying neighborhoods (or being serial killers). Ultimately, the play has a pessimistic message which, in some ways, undercuts the ask at the end: to donate time and resources to fighting a problem the play has said cannot be stopped. Even the homeless person does not fight back!

Since the bulk of the play is with White and Barr, I would be remiss to not gush over their performances. Barr, as Ollie, was uniquely charming as he obediently (and at times eagerly), went along with Jill’s plans and schemes. And not unlike Christmas in Connecticut, I found myself trying to write down the banter and one liners between the characters.

The only real hiccups to Radian Vermin were minor; Ollie says he was bullied in “high school” but in England, it is called “secondary school.” There were also some gun/school shooting jokes, which while certainly happen in the UK, are associated more commonly with living in the United States. Additionally, Caro Ciet plays Miss Dee, the realtor who sells the couple their home. Miss Dee is over the top, mysterious, and funny but in an eccentric way. Ciet plays this type well, but it would be nice to see this performer branch out into other types of roles in future productions.

Radiant Vermin is very funny, and is fun to watch from beginning to end. And tying a theatrical production to a social cause is something that other productions in Salt Lake City have experimented with. (Lord of Misrule: Feast of Fools, for example, collected donations for a charity.) Although it is not clear if Radiant Vermin would inspire anyone to donate to non-profits addressing homelessness after viewing it, the play is quite funny, the accents are gold, and all the actors are fun to watch.

Radiant Vermin plays at Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 West 500 North, Salt Lake City, on January 11 through 13 at 7:30 PM and on January 14 at 1 PM and 6 PM. Tickets are $12-$20. For more information, visit

These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.