How far would you go to save the ones you love? This is the confronting core thematic question that Phillip Ridley’s Mercury Fur forces us to answer. Premiering in 2005 at the Plymouth Theatre Royal in London, Mercury Fur’s highly controversial and disturbing concepts prompted regular audience walk-outs during initial runs of the play, and it received thoroughly mixed reviews in its early days.
Set in a dystopian, terror-stricken shell of modern-day London, the play quickly establishes a bleak, unsettling tone which does not lift even in its lighter moments (‘To roses and nuclear weapons!’ toasts a character at one point). Exploring perverted extremes of human desperation and self-preservation, Director and Producer Kim Hardwick’s version of the play, on show at Kings Cross Theatre until June 8, brings to life the most terrifyingly deranged of human fantasies.
A simultaneous sense of hurried urgency and creeping dread permeate the plot, as a gang of youths frantically rushes to prepare for a party. No one seems to be particularly looking forward to the party. When the Party Guest arrives and the party is revealed to be something much more sinister, it comes as less of a shock and more of a grim realisation.
Skilful casting and production add to the atmospheric horror. The audience grows attached to and feels genuine fear for those in danger, as the characters, carried by a talented ensemble cast, interact with believable chemistry. In particular, the fraternal bond between Danny Ball’s Elliot and Jack Walton’s Darren is apparent through the former’s protective instincts and devastating decisions.
Hardwick’s rendition keeps the momentum flowing, and the rising action builds to a shocking and frenzied climax. Given the dramatic intensity of the violence, the stage design by Ella Butler and lighting effects by Martin Kinnane could easily have been heavy-handed and overdone. Instead, these effects were carefully executed. Muted lighting, a brooding score by Claire Hennessy, and smoke on cue were all instrumental in creating and sustaining a continuously ominous feeling, signalling that no character is ever really safe.
Beyond the events taking place on stage, Ridley’s play poses complex and difficult ethical and moral dilemmas. When detached from the world of the play, where the characters are able to rationalise their actions in the context of their dire predicaments, these fundamental moral questions are unnervingly applicable to our own lives. Mercury Fur is not merely a tale about survival and a tribe doing what is necessary to protect its own; it is a deeper examination of the human condition’s lowest depths. The boundaries of morality and immorality are blurred, and the play asks how can something, such as the gruesome murder depicted in the play, be immoral if there is no one to declare it so?
The play’s twisted take on love and devotion nevertheless breathes some humanity into an otherwise hopeless landscape. The evident closeness between the main characters, bound by their mission to survive, makes it easier to understand if not forgive their more reprehensible decisions.
Mercury Fur goes further to posit its moral conundrum of the extent you would go to in order to save your loved ones; if it came down to it, would you kill them if it meant sparing them from further unimaginable pain? In 110 minutes, the play succeeds in transporting you to another world where this question is anything but hypothetical.
Mercury Fur runs until June 8 at Kings Cross Theatre. For session times and to book, see here: http://www.kingsxtheatre.com/mercury-fur-1