Mercury Fur

Tue 18th – Sat 22nd February 2014


Rose Elizabeth Nugee

at 12:04 on 19th Feb 2014



Butterflies. If that seems like an odd word to start a review with, allow me to explain: I make no excuses for being of a more than slightly squeamish disposition and little could dissuade me more from going to see a play than a review which started with a word like “shocking”, “unsettling” or, perhaps worst of all “graphic.” Mercury Fur is admittedly all of these things, but I could not forgive myself for alienating any tenderer minded theatregoer from this absolutely explosive production, hence, butterflies. I was fully expecting deeply uncomfortable viewing: the kind of gratuitous, heartless violence that is the audience baiting backbone of the weakest dramas. I was not prepared for what unfolded on the stage before me: rather than the ketchup fest that the inclusion of a “Blood Designer” in a crew list would appear to suggest, (if you are curious, Hannah Edwards does a fantastic job) this play, fundamentally, passionately is a celebration of indomitable humanity. There are moments you will want to look away. But you cannot: it is utterly transfixing. Sawyer may have seen this as proving his point of how anaesthetised to violence we modern audiences truly are but in fact it is more than that, there is something incredibly beautiful in this production. Ridley’s lines are a colourful blend of brutality and poetry. The first few scenes have moments of genuine hilarity, not least at the ingenuity of Elliot’s insults and though this silently fades as the plot hurtles at breakneck speed towards the inevitable explosion of the ending the sense of humanity remains, even in the most horrific scenes.

The suffusion of imagery ranges from the lyrical comparison of flames reflected in police shields to a “tide of sunset”, to “a kitten after a twirl in a microwave” but returns again and again to the same two images: of butterflies and bombs, two opposites which capture the twisted post apocalyptic world of Mercury Fur.

In the tatty East End tower block we are claustrophobically plunged into, disorder reigns outside, and humanity, in tatters, survives within through the consumption of sedating drugs, which dull the senses and wipe out traumatising memories. A brother and sister attempt to scrape a living off the mould that has survived: peddling butterflies to those that need them, and catering to the grotesque and sadistic desires of the super-rich cockroaches, who have endured, as promised, the apocalypse. One such party is being held tonight, central to which is a meat hook, a little boy and a soundtrack of Elvis so hauntingly inappropriate you wont ever quite be able to hear “Love Me Tender” the same way again.

Freddie Sawyer is more convincing playing the role of Elliot than most people are playing themselves in their everyday lives. It isn’t just that he is the kind of actor that plays a character well: his Elliot is mesmerising to watch as, like a pendulum, he swings violently between extremes, but never out of control, and never even slightly out of character. In a moment of exasperation with his little sister, he imagines what would happen if his sister were dissolved in acid before being consumed by a whale…

“I bet you give him a fucking bellyache. You'll cause the poor cunt so much fucking grief it'll deliberately beach itself. Do-gooders'll come rushing down to save it and the whale will say: "Fuck off! I'm better off dead! I've got Darren inside me like a million miles of Paki afterbirth!" Jesus.”

Jesus indeed. That the character who speaks these lines could moments afterwards be playfully tumbling around of the floor with that very same “million miles of paki afterbirth” he just comprehensively took down, and that the love he feels for her is not only consistently believable and always evident, but one of the surprisingly tender joys of the play owes something to Ridley and a considerable something to Sawyer.

Whilst Sawyer undoubtedly steals the show, he does not carry it, for with acting on all counts so strong, he never needs to. Marika McKennell’s Naz is a bouncing frantic wide eyed ball of empty energy, reminiscent of the type you find buzzing about the library at 6am, with too much caffeine and too little time till their essay deadline, and at the start of the play comes across slightly overacted; but Naz calms down once she feels secure in the social environment and it throws her earlier frenzy into relief as the first social contact in a long period of time had by a traumatised child, desperate to make a good impression. David Matthews Lola is a beautifully tender shot of dignity into the darkness, and the endearing though slightly twisted quality of Julia Kass’s Darren is heart tugging, capable of bringing out the protective elder sibling in anyone.

From the first scene it is clear that the lights and sound designers know what they are doing, the light fades slowly from the brightly lit dazed boy, placing a butterfly on his tongue, and hauntingly disintegrates into a silhouette; and they continue to be consistently wonderful: trumping the rule that the best sound and lighting effects are those which you forget about, like the drummer in the band, essential but best when unnoticed, the final horrible crescendo deploys lighting to a fantastic effect that literally leaves you dazed.

This is a positive atom bomb of a play, and rarely have I ever seen a performance as ferocious, yet in the end it is not the darkness that stays with you, but the intense portrayal of love under extreme circumstances. In the several dazed hours that have passed since I left the theatre I have still yet to conjure a word more fitting to describe its effects than the word that I heard faintly breathed from several other shell-shocked audience members lips after the clamorous applause: wow.


Lauren Hutchinson

at 18:20 on 19th Feb 2014



I wanted to stand at the end. My ears were ringing from rapturous applause from all directions but all I could hear was Marika Mckennel's screams in my head from the moments before. I wanted to stand but I couldn't because I also wanted to cry. And laugh hysterically for a long time. And scream. All that conflict meant I actually just sat there looking a bit shell shocked and clapped mindlessly until my hands were sore.

Justin Wells is a brave man. Taking on Ridley’s most controversial play to date is no mean feat, but from the haunting opening to the catastrophic conclusion, this production soared. Set in a dystopian London in the potentially not so distant future, Mercury Fur depicts a time beyond the riots where the capital’s population exists in a lawless abyss of hallucinogenic butterflies, remembering only flickers of what came before, if anything at all. The piece essentially ponders the extent of what can be done to us before we are no longer ‘human’ and also in reflection, the extent of what we will do ourselves to protect that humanity. Brutally executed reflections on the themes of love and loss skyrocket and dive through fast paced dialogue and intense personal recollections.

The company were vibrant and invigorating. Saul Boyer, true to form, provided a consistently fantastical presence as the notorious Spinx, but was of particular note when relaying tender moments between himself and The Duchess, played faultlessly by Ruby Zajak. Her traumatic revelations did truly stand out and overwhelm- a credit to the quality of the writing, the insight of the direction and the integrity of her performance. She was enchanting to watch, intriguing and whimsical then tortured and disjointed- each nuance measured and delivered with mastery. However the final commendation must lie with Freddy Sawyer whose portrayal of Elliott enthralled me and repeatedly brought me to tears- a performance that will stay with me long after I leave Cambridge.

The show was just shy of perfection- some characters that vital ounce more believable and engaging than others, and a spattering of moments feeling clumsy and un-choreographed. However, these were instances I was willing to chalk up to opening jitters and the sheer pressure that must come with portraying any of Ridley’s works- both issues I'm confident will be resolved by the time the show goes up this evening.

I feel not enough congratulations could ever be given to the lighting, sound and make up designers who brought the show hurtling to life with devastating realism. Thrilling, beautiful and utterly sobering- the onslaught was merciless and quite frankly, essential viewing. Whether you fall in the camp of those well acquainted with the in-yer-face style or those who are repulsed at the idea, this production will speak to the depths of your soul- that dark place where essentially, we are all the same. Or are we?


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