Mercury Fur, Second Serving. I seem to be making a habit of re-watching plays at the theatre of late. But how could I resist a) a Philip Ridley play b) Philip Ridley’s most shocking play and c) Philip Ridley’s most shocking play performed by such a knock-out cast? Greenhouse Productions’ interpretation has transferred after rave reviews from the stifling studio above the Old Red Lion Pub to the cooler (literally – they cranked the air con up for this one) but no less intimate environs of the Trafalgar Studios.
Ridley’s nightmare scenario, that unfolds in a London council estate about to undergo a Naplaming, tests the limits of what people will do to save the ones they love in the face of Armageddon. His recurring themes of lost childhood, blood and gore, hinted at incest, chocolate and the fantasy of innocence make for a surreal cocktail that is not for the faint hearted. Nor will the frightening and palpable renderings that this skilled band of actors give their characters.
The same director and same cast – safe for one alteration – are back and after over a fortnight having honed the production over in Angel it is wonderful to see how they, their characters and the relationships have developed and grown. The brothers bond between Elliot (Ciaran Owens) and Darren (Frank Keogh) is as strong and warm as it ever was, yet Keogh plays down the mentally retarded nature of the younger brother this time, making Darren seem less pitiful than he did before.
Lola (James Fyan) and Elliot’s chemistry is a lot more apparent and Fyan is just as striking dressed in drag as girlfriend to the group’s genius and sister to Spinx, who is played magnificently by Ben Dilloway. He might have shaved off the stubble but his height and booming voice command all the respect this figure of authority deserves. One of the most notable strengthening of performances was Katie Scharfe’s Duchess, Spinx’s blind and epileptic other half. She imbues it with all the sickliness that such a frail character requires and her pathetic state and bizarre persona chills one to the bone. Greenhouse Production’s artistic director Henry Lewis is perfect and maniacal as the infamous Party Guest.
Sam Swann replaces Olly Alexander as Naz, the Butterfly-addicted next-door neighbour. While Alexander adopted a wide-eyed vacant look and gave Naz a definite femininity, Swann creates something quite different. Larger and darker haired than the very slight and fair-headed Alexander, he is captivating and endlessly interesting – there is no doubt about the fact that here is a boy not blessed with brains, yet there seems to be something going on behind those darting eyes.
Possibly even more wonderful than the play was a surprise appearance by the playwright himself reading a selection of his poetry. Ridley is a larger than life caricature and has that charisma of the Pied Piper when reading his work. The motifs and symbols any Ridley admirer will be well accustomed to are all there along with the rhythm of Edgar Allan Poe and the tortured passion of the Romantic poets.
It may have been my imagination, but traces of Ridley’s Mercury Fur characters – Darren and even the Duchess – and how this stellar cast portrayed them were there when watching this exceptional poet perform. Some may think the weird flavour of his verse shocking for the sake of being shocking, and others will think his lines brutally honest. I fall into the latter category.
Seeing Mercury Fur for a second time I came braced against what was in store. I loved the play and its actor just as much, but enjoyed less of the adrenaline thrill I had watching it the first time. If you want theatre that’s raw and daring and that makes the blood flow faster, this is your show.