Mercury Fur at KXT
Set in a post-apocalyptic version of London's East End where gang violence and drugs terrorise the community, the protagonists are a gang of youths surviving by holding parties for wealthy clients in which their wildest, most amoral fantasies are brought to life. As the wheels start to fall off their slick operation, the gang ultimately have to decide how far they’ll go to save the ones they love and preserve their humanity.
Rosie spoke with Director Kim Hardwick about this highly controversial work and what it says about our society today. Read the full interview below:
How did you first come across Mercury Fur, and what made you want to bring this story to the KXT stage? What was your initial reaction to the work?
I read the play a number of years ago and filed it in the too hard category. The content was very controversial and I knew it would stretch the resources of an independent production company. Then Danny Ball reintroduced me to it last year and I couldn't get it out of my mind. After a few actors and myself got together for a read of the play there was a discussion about the viability of producing a work like Mercury Fur in todays climate and once the phrase “maybe people won’t like it” popped up the devil inside me bubbled to the surface and I thought, we have to give it a go.
Mercury Fur is a particularly divisive play surrounded by a lot of controversy. Some reviewers have called the content amoral, sick, or just generally too confronting for an audience to consume. How do you overcome a reputation like that, or was that reputation part of the appeal? How do you think Sydney audiences will respond to a work like this?
The content is to a large extent appears amoral for the privileged watching and listening, perhaps glass of wine in hand, but when you consider that a lot of the more confronting content is taken from actual researched human behaviour then to deny the story is to deny parts of the world that are true. The actions of the characters aren’t fantastical or reactions to a far away future. They’re happening now.
As Ridley says, ”The things that happen in Mercury Fur are not gratuitous, they are heart-breaking. The people may do terrible things but everything they do is out of love, in an attempt to keep each other safe. The play is me asking, 'What would I do in that position?' If you knew that to keep your mother, brother and lover safe, you would have to do terrible things, would you still do them? That's the dilemma of the play. It asks us all, 'What lengths would you go to to save the people you love?’”
A plays reputation is never a part of it’s appeal for production otherwise I would only direct those tried and true classics that I know will elicit nothing but positivity. Simply put, Mercury Fur appealed because it’s risky theatre for both the company and the viewer. It’s ambitious!
I have no idea how Sydney audiences will respond to the play. Perhaps the Emerald City will turn a glittering eye to its own underbelly or perhaps the eye will refuse to acknowledge the possibility of such suffering.
Mercury Fur has been listed as an 18+ production due to its extreme violence. Where do you personally draw the line at letting under 18s consume violence in theatre? How do you use violence in this production to communicate a message rather than forcing audience members to completely switch off?
The production is 18+ not because of the violence but because of the content. In the action of the play there are some promised events that are confronting to imagine.
In defending the play, Ridley felt there were double standards within the theatrical establishment, in that it is acceptable for there to be scenes of violence in classical drama but not within contemporary plays…
He says, ”Why is it that it is fine for the classic plays to discuss - even show - these things, but people are outraged when contemporary playwrights do it? If you go to see King Lear, you see a man having his eyes pulled out; in Medea, a woman slaughters her own children. The recent revival of Iphigenia at the National was acclaimed for its relevance. But when you try to write about the world around us, people get upset. If I'd wrapped Mercury Fur up as a recently rediscovered Greek tragedy it would be seen as an interesting moral debate like Iphigenia, but because it is set on an east-London housing estate it is seen as being too dangerous to talk about. What does that say about the world we live in? What does it say about theatre today?"
The story is originally set in a post-apocalyptic version of London’s East End, but when it toured in New York the playwright changed the setting to relate to an American audience. What version have you chosen to use for this Sydney production, and how will this English/American content relate to an Australian audience?
We’re telling the original story. There was never any discussion around moving the story to Australia. The content isn’t specific to any one country and the stories that are told through out the piece have been inspired by global events.
In the original production of Mercury Fur, almost 10 audience members walked out per night because of the nature of the content. How will you respond if people in Sydney do the same? Is it what you expect will happen?
I don’t expect people to walk out because since the plays premiere there has been an uptake in both theatre and screen story telling that is removed from the comfort of the middle class. Generally speaking people are more accepting of experiences beyond their own and they’ve become educated in heightened storytelling. But if they do walk out then they’ll miss one of the most heartbreaking endings to a play I’ve read.
What do you hope to achieve with Mercury Fur? What conversations or reactions do you want to provoke?
I’d like people to leave the theatre wondering about what the world is becoming. How the actions we’re undertaking now are going to impact those following.
"It is a play you need to see for its diagnosis of a terror-stricken and belligerent civilization. I recommend it strongly to the strong in heart.” John Peters, the Sunday Times
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Ex Machina’s The Seven Streams of the River Ota by Robert Lepage. This is a true masterpiece.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Russia and anywhere near Russia
Dream role to perform or score to sing?
John Proctor from the Crucible
Plays, operas or musicals?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Design, dressmaking, anything to do with movement
What’s next for you after this show?
Two days of R&R and then directing Table by Tanya Ronder at The Seymour Centre
Mercury Fur is currently showing at the Kings Cross Theatre until June 8th 2019. You can get your tickets here