Philip Ridley is no stranger to controversy and he’s right in the thick of it again with Mercury Fur, directed by John Tiffany and brought to the stage in another successful collaboration between the Drum Theatre Plymouth and Paines Plough.
Set in a brutal ravaged London wasteland where anarchy reigns, Elliott (superbly played by Ben Whishaw, most recently seen on the London stage in Trevor Nunn's Whatsonstage.com Award-winning Hamlet) does what he has to do to survive. That's where the nightmare begins – just how far would you go if you knew there was no comeback, no accountability?
Elliott is bright, he has a memory, unlike others around him. He makes his way by selling butterflies which, when eaten, stir vague memories and help the takers relive the moment – assassinations, historic incidents, the highs and lows of dimly-remembered events.
Their own lives are often just too horrific to recall but odd moments are recounted in vivid, typically Ridley, style. The stories are, for the most part, recollections of gang rape, torture and massacres, seemingly outrageous and unreal but, chillingly, all taken from recent accounts of such scenes around the globe.
Mercury Fur calls into question our play-going sensibilities with its increasingly sickening content, violence and foul language. Yet there's nothing here which isn’t out on view in real life or in much acclaimed Shakespearean tragedy or Greek classics. And in Mercury Fur most of the horrors either occur off stage or are recounted.
Elliott and his dependent brother Darren (Robert Boulter) are getting ready for an important party. It has been brought forward and they're panicking. The Party Piece is not ready and that could spell disaster as there's more riding on this event than even they know.
Played on Laura Hopkins’ atmospheric set - which forces the audience to be part of what's unfolding, giving no respite (there's no interval to escape the mounting tension either) - the brothers enlist the help of Naz (a tremendous performance by Shane Zaza) in their race against the fading daylight.
With the Fraser Ayres convincing as gangsta Spinx living right on the edge, Dominic Hall as the depraved Party Guest, Harry Kent as Lola and the Sophie Stanton milking every ounce of pathos as Duchess, this is a raw and compelling, if not necessarily enjoyable, theatre experience.
- Karen Bussell (reviewed at Drum Theatre, Plymouth)