Hats off to Nottingham New Theatre for a performance of the risqué, contemporary drama, Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley. The performance depicted everything the drama entailed; sadistic fantasy, horrific violence and most of all a re-enactment of something no human being would ever wish to visualise. Mercury Fur is not for the faint hearted; moments of empathy and sickening cruelty are simultaneously combined. The performance took place in the Performing Arts Studio (Trent Building); directed by Nadia Amico and produced by Dasha Karzunina.
In a derelict East End flat in London, brothers Elliot (Andy Routledge) and Darren (Matthew Miller) organise a party. But this is no ‘normal’ party. Fuelled by the prospect of money and the consumption of hallucinogenic butterflies, the characters begin the final preparations for the evening’s entertainment; the torture of a ‘party piece’, a 10-year old boy (Holly Daniels) by a sadistic rich banker (Rosie Van Oss). Although in Mercury Fur, things never go to plan.
Set designer, Natasha Mortimer, captured the simplicity of the staging in a confined and idyllic performance space, perfect for Mercury Fur; a sofa, chair, rug and a selection of rubbish scattered along the ground convincingly depicted the derelict flat. The actors made use of two entrances to the stage (one being the entrance to the flat, the other the entrance to an adjacent room/bathroom) that were effectively used and allowed characters to exit stage and avoid confrontation with movement on stage. Although the majority of violence and sexual discrimination occurred onstage, fortunately the climatic moments occurred out of view, however the audience still felt they were there watching the action take place. A spotlight provided the natural outdoor lighting to illuminate the flat during the day, when the event takes place. The added effect of the drawn curtains during the Party Guest’s savage attack only heightened the dramatic realisation of the event taking place.
The magical moments came purely through the actors’ ability to deliver their respective characters convincingly. Miller perfectly characterised Darren; initially acting with charisma and stupidity until he is required to take control. Routledge performed with authority and passion, particularly towards Darren. Spinx (Tolu Johnson) dominated the stage while The Duchess (Ginny Lee) was performed with fragility and dependency, evoking tender emotions in Spinx.
Amico brought an interesting interpretation to the performance by replacing characters with different genders. Lola, performed by Aaron Tej, acted as a convincing cross-dresser but required perhaps more flamboyancy given the artistic licence of the role. Consequently, the relationship between Lola and Elliot also brought a homosexual twist to the original drama, an unexpected but impressive addition.
The decision to cast Naz, a young male character, as a female in this production, has to be admired. Laura Gallop was fantastic throughout; complimenting Darren with childish behaviour in contrast to drawing sympathy from the audience over the deeply moving moments of Naz’s past, achieved purely through speech and tone in a still movement scene. In addition, casting the Party Guest as female also must be complimented. Ultimately, with (female) Naz being a victim, Amico avoided the stereotypical male dominated performance in which the victim is always female. Deferring from the assumption that the rich banker must be a male, Amico avoided the stereotypical assumption of the sadistic mindset with males. Daniels’ performance was engaging, passionate and at times frenzied.
There is a clear reason why Ridley’s publisher, Faber and Faber refused to publish the text; Ridley explores the topics of gangs, violence and drugs at point-blank range. Fortunately, Amico did not censor any part of this drama and why should the director? Contemporary art should challenge the audience, heighten perceptions and cause scepticism in performance. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, however I would strongly recommend for future audiences to ensure they are aware of what they are about to watch. In some respects, I feel Mercury Fur is a contemporary play that is possibly ahead of its time; a play some audiences may not yet be equipped to tackle and accept.
See Mercury Fur at the Nottingham New Theatre (currently performing in the Performing Arts Studio, Trent Building) until Tuesday 6th November.