We were walking along Lamond Drive —five of us— on a beautiful, sun-saturated, Instagram-filter day, attending the Mercury Fur preview show. A car roared alongside us, blaring grime from its open window. This occurrence was separate from the planned preview, but the level of commitment from our attendant, Frazer Hadfield, was such that even this unplanned distraction instantly became part of the mythos of the extraordinary experience that is Mercury Fur. Indeed, after leaving the preview, every car engine roar and every face coming out of a shop on Bell Street felt a threat, a part of some grand scheme. Let me explain.
The hype machine surrounding this play was immense; this was an incredibly well played move by director Jocelyn Cox and producer Caroline Christie. There was a palpable buzz on the bus to the secret staging location on the performance night. Tickets were edible butterflies. But the hype would have meant nothing if the end product was not up to scratch, but this was a case of do-believe-the-hype. Mercury Fur is a play about civilisation, the grandest scheme of all. Written in 2005 by Phillip Ridley, the script has matured; a play that was —to all intents— prophetic in its subtle references to class and to rioting came to an unsubtle fruition in the 2011 England riots. That the veil can be ripped off of civilisation, exposing the human imperatives of violence and survival that underpins it, we now know well. Mercury Fur is also a very human play. At its heart is a question, one that can only be conveyed —as it was with this particular production— by truly great and nuanced acting: what is there to care about when nothing else is left?
The play as presented was excellent, a tight rollercoaster, emotionally engaging and superbly acted by all. Special mention must go to Sebastian Carrington-Howell as Elliot, the anchor in the storm, who provided an excellent base upon which the audience could find emotional cues, and played a role so well inhabited that he seemed born for it. Frazer Hadfield breathed life into the supremely convincing and likeable junky Naz, and Oli Clayton as the Party Guest gave a remarkable performance. The only quibbles were some slightly ropy animation for the finale —which could have been cut in favour of a no curtain-call cold ending— and a slightly sloppy stage fight, but these are minor points. On the whole, the technical side of the production was excellent; the subtle lighting and make-up distinctly added to the atmosphere, as did the freezing temperature of the venue.
Mercury Fur tries its hardest to reason with this veneer of civilisation, with the nature of humanity, to say something quite simple: take the veneer away, and the human urge; violent, stills yearns for free action, for love, to be bound up in another. This production of the play posed that question very well and suggested, as the original does, that perhaps this is how to found a civilisation, not on hiding its uglier aspects, but on celebrating the ones that, in the end, may not triumph.
Photo credits: Caroline Christie