If you could save your family and friends from a nuclear Armageddon by directing a snuff film, would you do it? Would you rather shoot your brother and girlfriend than allow someone else to cause them pain? And how would you feel about digging shit out of your girlfriend’s crack?
Mercury Fur is purportedly Philip Ridley’s most controversial play to date. And they may be right. If you thought the Arcola’s Pitchfork Disney was twisted and uncomfortably psychedelic, then buckle up and have a fist full of sedatives ready for the Greenhouse Theatre’s production of Ridley’s more recent work, Mercury Fur, directed by Ned Bennett.
The Old Red Lion’s upstairs studio gives an immersive and intimate – if such a word can be used given the play’s context and content – staging. A bust-up, post-apocalyptic council flat – a stupendous and thorough feat of design by James Turner – decorated with bits of broken wall on the floor, spray paint and a lone teddy bear is where brothers Elliot and Darren are preparing the Party Piece for the imminent arrival of the Party Guest. True to form, Ridley jumps starts proceedings with the slickest and most fucked up back and forths, giving the finger to everyone: no group is spared slander.
Mercury Fur and the Pitchfork Disney have some unmistakable parallels. The gory and violent dystopian nightmares, harrowing screams, childhood sexuality, the love/hate territory of the sibling bond, sadomasochism, the intimidating alpha male and, of course, the sparkly jacket – in this case, a shiny gold Elvis outfit donned by the Party Piece. The seven characters also share traits with the Twins and Cosmo Disney in Ridley’s play from 1991.
Any parallels and overlap between plays don’t matter a jot. This warped recipe is delicious, even if it gives you a stomach ache. Amid the blood and guts also float butterflies and childhood’s more sugarcoated elements: chocolate and the Sound of Music.
Mercury Fur, while being the more sinister and bloody of the two plays, is somehow less intense and exhausting than Pitchfork with less of the Samuel Beckett order of bleakness. Where as Pitchfork stuns you, Mercury Fur has you on the edge of your seat, racing with adrenaline. A lot of this is due to the larger cast, making the action choppier. True, there is less opportunity for each individual member of the cast to shine – as there was for the three leads in Pitchfork – but each wonderful actor is awarded their moments of glory.
Ciaran Owens as older and smarter brother Elliot and Frank C. Keogh as the hilarious “anvil around my neck” younger brother Darren create a beautiful brotherhood: from overpowering displays of love to pure cruelty. The pretty Olly Alexander is all at once annoying and endearing in his portrayal of Naz, the butterfly junkie and waif-next-door.
Elliot’s girlfriend Lola is played well by James Fynan in drag – what a figure! Perfectly cast is Ben Dilloway as Spinx, Lola’s brother and “papa” to Katie Scarfe’s Duchess – who fancies herself something of a Julie Andrews. A short but grotesquely funny performance by Henry Lewis as the Party Guest takes the play’s shock factor up several hundred degrees as he re-enacts his own barbarous version of Apocalypse Now.
And not forgetting Ronak Raj as the dainty Party Piece who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. All seven actors create an action and atmosphere that is exhilarating. Never has a play blown my mind so. Once I get the finance, I will be making this into a film. Actors, expect a call in the future.
Ridley doesn’t hold back – both in his use and misuse of language and in the depraved fantasies he takes us on. And nor should he. This is the Unmade Bed of playwriting. You are either going to love it for its unabashed honesty (come on, haven’t we all had depraved daydreams?) or curl up uncomfortably at its unreserve.
Whatever your opinions of Ridley as a writer, his work will go down through the ages. His plays are timeless in their setting and confront an issue that will always be there – the ever-shrinking time span of our childhoods and our longing for rosier days.
Mercury Fur must be seen. Buy your tickets today. Runs until 14th April.