By Luke Power
Imagine you’re a drug addict in a collapsing world where the only way of escaping the threat of bombing is by organising ‘parties’ for rich people who will give you help in exchange for the opportunity to torture kids. If you can imagine this, maybe you’d fit into the twisted realm of Mercury Fur, the latest play produced by Lion Theatre Company with success.
Director Abbie Priestley made a bold decision in choosing to stage Mercury Fur, but it has paid off. Though the violence and crudeness in the play caused a ruckus among many of its original critics, Priestley’s version manages to embrace the play’s hardcore exterior while illuminating its themes of love and loyalty as well as having the audience in stitches.
The central character of the play, Elliot, seems to be the only one we can trust at the start due to his abstinence from the drugged butterflies, which cause their consumers to have violent hallucinations. Freddie Parsons portrays Elliot’s psychological downfall incredibly well. His command of facial expressions and voice allows him to issue lines such as, “If you’re sarcastic with me, I will shoot you”, with deadpan seriousness, exposing how he oversteps the boundaries between retaining control and abusing his friends. Parsons gives Elliot rough edges of hubris and aggression, which work effectively to solidify his status as an anti-hero.
Surrounding him in his pursuit of survival are two dimwits who provide much of the play’s comedy. Jack Firoozan and Layla Chowdhury play Danny and Naz respectively, characters who stumble through life with patchy understanding of the world but who grow into responsible figures. Both are outsiders, seeking the approval of Elliot, and it is the interplay between their frustrating foolishness and Elliot’s hot-headedness which allows the play to ask questions of patience and understanding between individuals in high-pressure situations. By the end, Danny becomes the figure of calm after Elliot loses his cool.
The atmosphere, so carefully designed, is the best I have experienced in Durham. The set gives an instant impression of the world’s disorder, the floor being strewn with beer cans, pizza boxes, and milk bottles, the contents of which hopefully provides the cast with some fun in the changing rooms before the show! The music is sharp, frenetic, and pulsing, immersing everybody in a high-stakes environment. And the costumes and make-up are tailored to suit the play’s ecosystem, capturing the essence of a grungy, dystopian East End of London.
The drawback with any staging of Mercury Fur is that its violence and vulgarity just won’t be some people’s cup of tea. Swearing and slurs like “petrol bomb paraplegic” (one of the tamer insults) are thrown around frequently. And the closing scenes of the play are uncomfortable viewing. After the child reared for torture at the party passes away, much to the disappointment of the affluent party guest who pays money for the privilege of torturing the child, Naz is suggested as the replacement. This tests the loyalties of Elliot. Will he choose to let Naz be killed in order to gain help from the rich man to escape the bombings, or stick up for his friend? The violence that follows his decision mostly takes place off stage but comes with shrieks of pain and blood splatters all the same. The terror might be off-putting for some people, however I would stress that such violence is only limited to the end of the play.
Overall, I am impressed with this production because it manages to balance gore with comedy, sorrow with joy, and fury with reflection. The acting blurs into realism, each line believable due to the cast’s focus in sticking to character. Mercury Fur at the Assembly Rooms Theatre is an enjoyable night, and I would recommend it.
Image: Lion Theatre Company