Kay Michael’s production of Phillip Ridley’s _Mercury Fur_ was a terrific success. If the _Boar_ offered ratings out of five I would fight tooth and nail to give it six. This success has something to do with the absolute match between the production and the play itself; having seen Michael’s site-specific production, it is hard to imagine how the play could work on the stage. Chris Browne pointed to an important element of the play’s difficulty (for both audience and director alike) when he suggested that Michael’s production pushed the play towards “intellectual provocation over vacuous obscenity”. The play is tricky: it seeks to draw the audience into a world in which brutality is the norm, and in doing so to reveal that this world is not too far from the one they will step back into outside of the theatre doors. Philip Ridley stressed that his aim had been simply to “turn the volume up” on what he saw around him. But as Chris Browne points out, this may leave the audience cold. The violence must be so extreme as to be surprising, but familiar enough to be immediately pressing.

It was in navigating the dynamics of this violence that the strength of Michael’s production laid. One’s first entry into the bizarre, derelict old men’s club – so close to where so many of you live – matched in it and startling oddity the entry into a world in which the pervasive presence of violence has distorted familiar patterns and rules of communication. In Ridley’s play, the characters still speak English, but only just: the words are the same, but their meanings differ. Throughout the play, one comes to understand slowly how this momentous change has come about, how the vectors of wanton violence and instant gratification may have led to such an apocalyptic scenario. What is extraordinary is just how quickly one becomes accustomed to the newly introduced violence – expecting it, understanding it, even wishing for it. The way in which one was led round the space by the movements of the actors seemed perfectly orchestrated to render this increasing familiarity with violence into the audience’s relationship with the space: the early part of the play opened out the daunting plethora of dark corners, and having seen them the audience were more happy to perch on a beaten-up sofa or old arm-chair, eerily cosy in the theatre of violence.

I suppose what I wish to point out is the way in which this play holds a mirror up to the audience – not to some larger category, such as life or reality – but to the audience, following and reflecting their relationship to theatrical fantasy. One is happy to watch the tragic fate of Oedipus unfold, or the chauvinist fantasies of a Pinter play reach their aim with unfettered ease – but in this play, the evolution of the violent fantasies which constitute the play’s centrepiece follow the audience’s relation to theatrical spectacle; and it was Michael’s singular insight to recognise this and incorporate it into the workings of the performance. We spend the play waiting for the arrival of The Party Guest, whose mad fantasy of raping an Elvis Impersonator in Vietnam reaches us in dribs and drabs throughout the play. The arrival of the Party Guest will make sense of all the bewildering material we have seen; everything points towards his arrival, which we await with anxious expectancy. And when he comes? Fuck all. The final rape of Naz with a meat-hook – for which we have waited so patiently – is denied us: a screen is slammed against the bedroom doorway and we only know that it is taking place through the screams on the other side. The audience are left facing one another in a cramped corridor, desperately trying to avoid eye contact; for all of us ran to see that rape, letting our twisted curiosities usurp the morals we left at the door with our handbags and coats.


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