Mercury Fur – Forgetting and history (Theatre Review)

Mercury Fur

Haseman, Ball and Radda and White Box Theatre

with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company

24 May to 8 June. You can grab your tickets here.

Images by Jasmine Simmons

For Philip Ridley population control, and even acts of genocide are best conducted via the eradication of history. Mercury Fur is many things, but a standout fictive is narrative control, loss of memory and the implantation of histories. The play’s obvious harkening back to Pinter’s memory plays, including the sense of a room as a spatial affect relating to memory, call forth the reaffirmation of power in the absence of real remembering. In Mercury Fur the events taking place in the room are all that matter, despite everyone’s fate being tied to what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future. No one, not even Elliot (Danny Ball) has a proper memory of how they got where they are. No recollection can be trusted and feelings are perpetually reaffirmed. Danny (Jack Walton) and Elliot know they love each other but they communicate a constant story reaffirming that love, which implies an experienced need in the face of confused absence. Yesterday is unknown, tomorrow is a mystery and the room is everything that is happening in the world. Memory becomes wielded to claim domination over a particular person. The Party Guest (Josh McElroy) isn’t even sure of his own fantasy which pours from an unstable narrative and Spinx (Michael McStay) uses his relationship with Duchess (Romy Bartz) to threaten the young brothers via memory and history. While Harold Pinter might locate his protagonists in a room without the present where they only live in memory, Philip Ridley intentionally subverts this to create a world where no memory exists and the present is a constant co creation of involved protagonists with no historical agenda. The butterflies eradicate the past and ensure the future by implanting violence that becomes the norm. Running from pain as everyone grows more and more accustomed to violence is the only action, and inflicting violence becomes more the norm as everyone takes the butterflies to eradicate a horrific past.

In this particular production of Mercury Fur, certain concessions to past, present and future are made by Kim Hardwick to, to paraphrase Philip Ridley himself, have the tuning fork of the play vibrate in a certain political direction. Kim Hardwick makes outstanding casting choices that play with Philp Ridley’s concepts and designs. Particularly strong is the choice to cast Meg Clarke as Naz. While this is essentially a fifteen-year-old male role, Meg Clarke draws the character further out, incorporating gender fluidity as a product of memory as opposed to a question of anatomy. Meg Clarke gives an outstanding performance as a gender fluid Naz who manages to evoke both the boy and the ‘non-male’ at the same time. Similarly, casting Lucia May as the party piece (and Lucia May is very clearly not a ten year old boy) the horror of knowing a ten year old boy is prepped to be butchered is all the more ‘real’ because this boy is played by a young woman (a demographic that suffers violent abuse in our present). Memory then becomes even more obsolete than Philip Ridley can impose, and it eradicates that problematic ‘Lord of the Flies’ thing Mercury Fur has against it. To recognize the present as historical is to perceive both it and one’s consciousness of it as meaning something the meaning of which will only be given in the future and in historical retrospection. We witness Mercury Fur as observers from our place in history, but Mercury Fur offers us a present without history. Mercury Fur can neither judge and weigh the present in light of a history, nor can it form a consciousness knowing it will be part of a history. Protagonists and audience come as close as is humanly possible to Camus[1] authentic suicide as the only possible way to respond appropriately to the future.

To exist historically is to perceive the events one lives through as part of a story later to be told. The party guest is safe in Mercury Fur, not because there is no rule of law, but because no one will remember the events of the room tomorrow. He needs to record the event without his face, because he himself will not remember. For the strange family who organize the party, the party piece will be sacrificed for the salvation of mankind, ah la Abraham and Isaac and of course, Jesus Christ himself. If we recoil in horror at the idea of a ten-year-old being prepped for a brutal murder, we must face this in our Christian mythology, not to mention in the daily lives of violence against women. Perhaps, suggests Kim Hardwick through Philip Ridley, we are taking butterflies in order to forget already?

This production of Mercury Fur is a must if you are familiar with the famous play, or interested in Philip Ridley’s style as a playwright. Beautifully performed by the entire cast (with stand outs in Meg Clarke and Jack Walton) the performances are powerfully called forth by Kim Hardwick who keeps the energy of the production high through strong performances. If you don’t already know, Mercury Fur is a controversial piece of writing, and when beautifully performed, is a disturbing piece of theatre that affects deeply. It’s worth getting a heads up on content before you go, but I encourage attendance as the production contains so many inducements to critical thought. On a beautiful set design by Ella Butler and with strong lighting by Martin Kinnane (who chooses to go natural – and it works) and arousing sound by Claire Hennessy, Kim Harwick and her team bring multiple nuances to a complicated work that can lose us in the horror of its brutal aspects. Hasemann, Ball and Radda and White Box Theatre have come up with an exciting piece of theatre that is well worth making an effort to witness.

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[1] See a bit of an essay on Camus theory of life and death here. https://medium.com/@sisyphus089/on-suicide-was-camus-right-c0ec5db98442

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