Mercury Fur at the Trafalgar Studios is the second production of Philip Ridley’s post-apocalyptic play that I have seen, the first being by Theatre Delicatessen in 2010. This piece is set in London, now a chaotic city ransacked by drug-infused youths following a bizarre and unexplainable event. We follow two brothers – Elliot and Darren – who work in the business of dealing ‘butterflies’, the drugs which provide a spectrum of unique and sometimes devastating effects depending on their colour. However, the boys are also involved in something far more dangerous; hosting ‘parties’ for wealthy individuals, they descend into the darkest fantasies mankind can think of, and provide a service for those with enough money, but at what cost… a child, perhaps?
The Trafalgar Studio is a terrifyingly intimate venue, audience sat on benches just feet away from a ransacked room filled with rubble, heartlessly torn up books, and broken furniture. This proximity brings Mercury Fur right into the faces of the spectators so they are the walls, witness to the atrocities and devastation within, without a way of interfering. For me, that sense of helplessness, regardless of the fact that it is after all ‘just a play’, is the most difficult thing to digest about this piece – you sit and watch, and all you can do is absorb the world around you.
Ciaran Owens plays Elliot with Frank C Keogh. He is arguably the most sympathetic character, facing desolation and the crumbling of his world whilst desperately trying to keep a hold of the things in his mind which he thought no-one could take away. Owens portrayed a fading strength that pushed to keep his brother safe whilst ensuring the smooth-running of the job at hand. Darren is a frantic, slightly childlike character which was grabbed with both hands by Keogh – it is no mean feat being able to maintain such manic energy for the two-hour show, but Keogh does it with a real sense of possession and commitment to Elliot.
With an incredibly underrated style, Sam Swann does little more than say the words of Naz, the unfortunate boy who becomes mixed up in the brothers’ task. This innocent stating is both breathtaking and unbearable in his act one monologue, leaving us vulnerable to the heart wrenching second act. James Fynan played Lola, Elliot’s transsexual lover and sister to the brothers’ boss, Spinx. Fynan was delicate, soft, and warm throughout the play, providing a necessary break from the violence and aggression, whilst not diminishing from the character herself. Her brother, Spinx (Benjamin Dilloway) reeks of testosterone and anger, but reveals a longing for simplicity and homeliness which Dilloway made clear without compromising his strength.
Directed by Ned Bennett, Mercury Fur is gritty and uncomfortable. Well, that is an understatement – there are moments of comedy, in which the audience burst into laughter only to cover their mouths in horror when they realise what it is that so amused them. It is a story of humanity, the dissolution of civilisation, and, perhaps, a warning at what could be. I think anyone who attempts this play must be applauded, but cannot deny that this production by The Greenhouse Theatre Company is powerful and brutal. See it, but prepare to be silenced.