‘Mercury Fur’ is a genre of play that has crossed over from cinema and as such requires a novel approach in direction. This production masterfully captures the essence of the writing and its many layered satire on a dysfunctional society. It is hugely enjoyable and at the same time incisively insightful.
It sprung to life following ‘Nochnoy Dozor ‘, ‘Nightwatch’ the very successful Russian fantasy action thriller released in London the year ‘Mercury’ premiered. The multi talented artist, playwright, poet and novelist, Philip Ridley credits it in the repeated reference to the ‘day’ party / ‘night’ party. It’s all due to the delayed arrival of the Party Guest, in this production played off a very straight bat by Paul Ashcroft. It’s going to present problems with exposure in filming his snuff fantasy.
In the film by Timur Bekmambetov a futuristic world is governed by day by the forces of evil and by night by those for good. It’s a concept he no doubt picked up from Genesis. The balance is threatened by some future event that will give one side or the other absolute power. This is where the Party Guest in ‘Mercury’ comes in. He has the power because he has the knowledge of when and where.
Director, Ben Packer shows an intuitive appreciation of the work and has been able to extract from the cast and crew a tight homogeneous romp of a play.
It’s a work that owes much to the cross pollination of the stage from antecedents in both the visual arts and the technology of screen. Perhaps it was this hybridization that prompted many of its London critics to condemn it. It doesn’t fit into a category. Ripley responded by accusing them of being "blinder than a bagful of moles in a cellar".
It is Ridley’s hallmark; he defies being pigeon holed and constantly shocks and confuses his audience. While still at school he exhibited his first work, supposedly of a boy ejaculating a blackbird. If the truth were known the painting probably had more to do with the imagery evoked in nursery rhymes, the bird had pecked the boy’s ‘seed’ not been spat out of his pecker.
Ridley is a savant. He was born and brought up in Bethnal Green in East End London where his room overlooked the local pub from which the patrons would regularly emerge to ‘glass’ one another. Not the sort of image a kid would necessarily want to be disturbed by in his sleep.
In addition he was a child ‘nanny’ to himself and his young brother. His mother’s manic-depressive condition regularly saw her take to her sleeping bag in the middle of the floor and stay there for days. The theme of the truant adult is a constant one through Ridley’s children’s books (Zip's Apollo and ors) and his other works.
The crossing of such intense realism with an irrepressible imagination has meant Ridley sees a world denied most of us except through his personal vision. In ‘Mercury’ the adults have stuffed up the world and have now left the building. The place is a dangerous mess although someone still has the presence of mind to run the mobile network. The two boys, Elliot, played with great presence by Luke Mullins and his young sibling, Darren, portrayed charismatically as a wide eyed dream seeker with a charming innocence by Xavier Samuel, are doing what they have to do to get by. Sometimes it gets nasty.
But it’s self-deceiving Ripley warns, it’s implicit in "the denial of responsibility … in the stance that says, 'I believe my story, therefore it must be true'. It parallels the Nuremberg defence: You have a duty to do what you are told. Ripley contends it’s not possible to exonerate yourself just because you believed what you were doing was right. ‘That kind of 'sincerity' is no defence." (Interview with Paul Taylor; 03.05.07)
What allows Ridley to infuse this seemingly bleak scenario with such outrageously clever humour is the fact that unlike its antecedent film Ridley isn’t about to let this play take itself too seriously. Lots of guys have been ‘glassed’ out there and life goes on. So Ridley, after going to a great deal of trouble to set up an alternative reality, a prerequisite of the fantasy genre, he proceeds to upset it. He introduces the complicit victim in Naz, played very intensely by Aaron Orzech and the game begins.
He and director, Ben Packer and the very capable cast and crew have great fun playing it with their audience. Ever more chaotic influences are brought to bear until finally Party Piece, the supposed sacrificial lamb, played with complete abandon by Wazzadeeno Wharton-Thomas, is led in as Elvis. He promptly throws up on his tuxedo and is overcome with sudden recognition of his own mother in the pantomime character of ‘The Duchess’ played with wonderful reserve and explosive mania by Fiona Macys, she did everything but wave.
The explanation for this character and her ‘condition’ lies with Spinx, the dream weaver, deftly balanced between threat and promise by Gareth Ellis. He repeatedly reminds everyone that he has to keep her close, she gets nervous when too far away. ‘She shit herself last time.’ he confides preliminary to a graphic description of the consequences. It brings to mind the adage ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’.
It’s all hugely entertaining with Lola, the transvestite, played by Russ Pirie strutting his stuff in this fictional hell as proud as a pair of Calvin Klein jocks.
The whole kaleidoscope of business builds into a maelstrom of bodies being hurled around this tiny space until finally the storm dies and some semblance of order is restored in the usual way. It’s not quite ‘happy families’ but it’s the best you can hope for in this dysfunctional world.
The set design, by Adam Gardnir, was reminiscent of every boy’s bedroom where you have to force the door open against the detritus that has accumulated on the other side. The lighting, designed by Danny Pettingill, was possibly the star turn in this production. It opens as a faint outline behind the boarded up backdrop. Then, as Elliot tears down the panels it’s progressively revealed as a bank of brilliant orange and red globes that surreptitiously fade out through the performance as the sun sets. At day’s end the space is left to torchlight and the candelabras, fortuitously provided by Naz from his room ‘down the corridor’.
The sound effects throughout, designed by Kelly Ryall bring back memories possibly better forgotten. In the final moments the spotlights of the new wave of terror burst onto the set and the whole theatre vibrates in what is an unmistakable tribute to Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’.
The play is not so much anti war as it is anti irresponsibility especially of those who should know better. The constant recurring motif of ‘fucked up’ heads really says it all.
little death productions & the 2007 Theatreworks Company Initiative Program present
by Philip Ridley
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross
Dates: 27 Sept – 13 Oct, 2007
Times: Mon 6.30pm, Tues – Sat 8pm, Sat Matinee 2 pm
Bookings: MCA Ticketing 1300 306 776
Please note: this production contains scenes that may offend