By Rosie Niven
When I walked into the Kings Cross Hotel this week for the opening night of Mercury Fur, I knew three things about the play: that it was rated R18+, that it was a very controversial script, and that during the original production in London there were regular walkouts from audience members. All of which is quite a big reputation to follow. Added to this, an announcement before we enter the theatre that we are about to witness a very brave show, KXT Bakehouse immediately set a very high bar for themselves with Philip Ridley's production of a post-apocalyptic world that seems not that far from us.
Ridley’s dystopian London presents a playing ground for teen brothers Elliot (Danny Ball) and Darren (Jack Walton), who make a living dealing hallucinogenic butterflies and hosting parties that cater to the wildest and sickest fantasies of the rich. At this particular party, Elliot and Darren have organised the torture of young Pakistani boy for a party guest that has a Vietnam War fantasy that he wants fulfilled in return for a payment that we're not privy to. From broken bones, to meat hooks, to stories about people having their skulls stomped on in supermarkets, Mercury Fur never wanes from its reportedly controversial content.
Ella Butler's ransacked set is our first interaction with the high bar set by KXT. Her dishevelled apartment, devoid of colour and life, splits the audience down the middle and makes us feel as though we are looking in, unable to stop the atrocities taking place but all the while enjoying our voyeuristic position. This is supported by Martin Kinnane's simple, yet effective lighting that simulates shifts in daylight through the gaps in the boarded up windows.
The technical elements have really been stripped back for this production, allowing the actors to shine, and in a work that's as dialogue-heavy as this, you need them to shine. As a whole, the cast were a strong ensemble that supported each other through an intensive 110 minutes that featured a rollercoaster of emotional trauma. Although some scenes were uncomfortably long, this came down to the text rather than the performances, and each actor managed to keep the audience engaged throughout the lulls in the story. However, from the strong ensemble, there were three performers who particularly shone: Meg Clarke’s damaged yet lovable Naz, Jack Walton’s charismatic yet dependent Darren, and Janet Anderson’s genuine portrayal of the warm-hearted Lola.
I am a big fan of theatre that confronts the audience, and pushes boundaries. However, confronting and graphic content that doesn’t seem to have a purpose feels unnecessary at times. Much of the play contains gratuitous violence and language, and all of the women in the play, even the ones playing men, seemed to be subservient or subject to exploitation and violence. If the work was meant to instil in us a sense of hopelessness about the future of humanity, I would have loved if the hopelessness could have been pushed even further (hearing Naz’s attack live rather than a faint recording would have aided this) - instead it felt like it missed the mark.
Kim Hardwick's production of Mercury Fur had big boots to fill, and by the end of the show it felt as if the boots were just a size too big. With inconsistent accents and a story that lacked purpose, talented actors felt under utilised. However, I commend KXT for continuing to push the limits of theatre and never shying away from risky stories. I look forward to seeing what this talented cast and crew do next.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.