Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur is set in a post-apocalyptic version of London's East End, where a gang of youths survive by their wits, dealing with butterfly-like drugs traded for objects looted from the likes of the British Museum by their butterfly-addicted customers. Their main source of ‘income’, however, comes from organising parties for wealthy clients whose wildest fantasies are brought to life. In the non-stop two plus hours of the play, the party in question revolves around the murder of a child with a meat hook, staged in a Vietnam-style fantasy of the Party Guest. The gang ultimately have to face the question of how far they are willing to go to save the people they love.
This is a play which divided the critics during its original run five years ago, with some saying it was nothing more than the writer voicing his own sexual fantasies, while others declared it a damming documentation of a crumbling society.
This is a play which divided the critics during its original run five years ago, with some saying it was nothing more than the writer voicing his own sexual fantasies, while others declared it a damming documentation of a crumbling society. This certainly makes it a ripe candidate for St Andrews-based Riot Productions, whose company tag line is “Raw, Gritty, and Real”.
Except…the production comes in at a lengthy two hours and forty minutes, without an interval—and therein lies its key problem. With the dialogue-heavy nature of the piece it becomes more of an exhausting challenge to reach the curtain call. Arguably, the play has at least an hour of material that could easily be cut, as it delivers nothing more than the writer’s musings on the Kennedy Assassination plot and a rambling look at love born of addiction, which is covered again later in the play.
Despite being hamstrung by an overly long text and a pace so slow you feel like shouting “Get a move on!”(director Jocelyn Cox favours too many long dramatic pauses that detract from the dramatic impetus of the scenes in hand), there are some tremendous performances here. None more so than those by Sebastian Carrington-Howell and Tommy Rowe who play, respectively, Elliot and Darren—the two brothers at the heart of the story. Ripped apart by circumstances they can’t control, the pair lead the audience through an emotional journey which stems from acceptance to almost homoerotic tenderness of love on a deeper level.
While the overall quality of the performances are excellent, they can’t compensate for such a long running time, especially when the play begins to repeat itself. Had the last hour been performed standalone then this could have been a five star review; if the company can continue to work with such excellent talent and are given a better text then this is a company which will indeed bring Raw, Gritty and very real theatre to life.