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Brief Encounter with ... Mercury Fur director Ned Bennett

Mercury Fur has transferred from the Old Red Lion Theatre to Trafalgar Studio 2, where it continues until 23 June 2012. Philip Ridley’s controversial 2005 play is performed by the Greenhouse Theatre Company and directed by Ned Bennett.

The play is set in post-apocalyptic London where gangs, drugs and terrorists plague the city. Two brothers, Elliot and Darren, live in this word attempting to earn money by hosting parties for wealthy clients where their wildest fantasies come true.

Bennett takes on the production after directing plays including Excellent Choice and Mr Noodles. We caught up with him recently to discuss the transfer of the play and the shock value Mercury Fur still has on its audiences.

How does it feel to bring Mercury Fur to Trafalgar Studios?

It’s very exciting, it’s always great revisiting a piece and getting back into the rehearsal room. There is so much to explore in the text, so to get the opportunity to continue developing our understanding of the world of the play is a real privilege.

Did you ever imagine you'd transfer when you first opened?

No, not at all. It was Greenhouse Theatre Company’s first production so we were entirely focused on the run at the Old Red Lion.

Why did you want to revive the play?

I was drawn to the visceral nature of the story and its examination of tormented, vulnerable young people. I was particularly interested in how the play explores fractured fraternal relationships. The dystopian backdrop of the story of course has greater resonance in the light of last year’s riots. It’s particularly interesting that we opened in the week of the Diamond Jubilee with Union Jacks flying proudly; the play makes some incisive and provocative comments on British culture.  

What can you tell us about the new production?

Trafalgar 2 is an intimate space that places the audience in the middle of the action. Without giving too much away we hope it will be just as intense as it was above the Old Red Lion - if not more!

Do you think Mercury Fur still has the same power to shock as when it premiered?

Absolutely, the play is an imaginative response to real life global atrocities that can be extremely affecting when given to an audience in such a claustrophobic setting. Saying that, I think the initial outrage expressed in some of the papers at the original production has died down in the context of what has been happening in the world over the last few years.

How have you found the audience reactions?

Lots of screaming! What’s been fun about the audience’s reaction is how their expectations are constantly challenged. There’s a sense that the audience are continually trying to work the play out; each time they come to a conclusion something happens or a new character enters, turning everything on its head.

Was Philip Ridley involved in your production at all?

Philip Ridley has been hugely supportive, from when we cast the original at the Old Red Lion to creating the main publicity photo for the run at the Trafalgar Studios. Philip came to some rehearsals and made small script edits along the way. Most excitingly, he wrote four new monologues - almost ‘prequel’ pieces - which we filmed and are currently on YouTube.

Have you retained the original cast?

All of the actors have returned except we are delighted to have cast the brilliant Sam Swann as Naz (The Kitchen and Greenland at the National, Dunsinane at the RSC).  I have worked with Sam before – he's a joy to have in rehearsals and it’s exciting to see what he’s bringing to the role.


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