On my way to attending this preview, I read the Wikipedia page of the play – it’s a classic ploy for secretly and profoundly ignorant theatre critics to maintain their veneer of omniscience to construct the absurd notion that we actually know what we’re talking about. The Wikipedia entry for Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur actually made me more, rather than less, anxious about the rehearsal I was about to witness. It features such choice quotes as “at least 10 walkouts reported each performance” or “In 2010 police almost raided a production of the play (which was staged in a derelict office block) when a resident living next door believed the play’s violent scenes were being carried out for real”. At this point I should warn readers that I will not only be lightly spoiling some of the plot of this production, but will also be reporting some quite frankly horrifying events that unfurl over the course of the play.
Mercury Fur is set in a post-apocalyptic London; where roving criminal gangs fight over the market for hallucinogenic butterflies. Several of the main characters are addicted to these butterflies, which send you on bizarre journeys into the surreal, and cause severe memory loss. This is pretty much the dictionary definition of ‘dystopian’, on steroids – our loveable band of drug addicted and/or homicidal protagonists scrape together a livelihood in this hellish future by throwing ‘parties’ for the tiny minority of the hyper-rich. These aren’t the standard champagne, coke and porcine necrophilia beset sort of parties which the hyper-rich enjoy today – rather, the gang promises to fulfil the very deepest and darkest desires of these individuals, which, in the context of Mercury Fur, turns out to be the dismemberment of a child dressed as Elvis Presley for sexual gratification (I did warn you).
This production has a stunning cast, who have really come to grips with the darker side of Ridley’s work – Director Jonny Dancinger reflected that he is effectively orchestrating a “social experiment.” The cast have been following Artaud’s ideas of ‘Theatre of cruelty’ (yet another occasion for some Wikipedia reading) – basically they’re tired of dramatic performances that fail to make the audience feel anything, so they want to bring people to the edge of an emotional breakdown, to force you to engage with the characters. All I can say is that over the course of my half an hour in their company, the cast certainly brought me to the edge of an emotional breakdown.
Centre stage we have Calam Lynch as Eliot, whose mastery over Ridley’s bizarre, vile and lyrical phrasing draws a sense of poetic profanity to the genuinely disturbing imagery (“I’ve known gang-raped toddlers to act with more alacrity”). Mia Smith’s Darren, whose bizarrely sensual description of hyperviolence painfully evokes a sense of infantilised desensitisation, joins Lynch. The preview was so packed full of highlights that I could ramble on for several more pages – for example a soundscape made entirely out of The Sound of Music’s ‘Do Re Mi’ at various levels of distortion – basically, go and see this show, if you can stomach it, it promises an evening of drama nonpareil.