Hull-based Middle Child Theatre Company have launched their first ever extended run of a single production with a relocating of the controversial Mercury Fur which was written by Philip Ridley and originally launched in 2005 in Plymouth and then London where it was originally set.
The production is set in post-apocalyptic Hull and takes place in the abandoned unit 15 of the Lowgate Centre in Hull Old Town, on entry you are given directions to where the performance is taking place at the top of the building, you’re told to follow the butterflies (pictures on the walls) and step over the dead dog, which I didn’t see, and this is meant to immerse you in the sort of futuristic world that the production is set in.
The long walk up the stairs is slightly arduous but is a half-decent scene setter, however when you enter the room where the action is taking place you are struck by the dim light and the general almost anarchic state of the room with rubbish strewn around in a great panic and signs on the walls saying things like: If at first you don’t succeed… Call An Air-raid, Army of One, Hope Is All We Have and If You Tell A Lie Enough, It Becomes Politics.
The background music and sound is set perfectly to draw you in and immerse yourself in this unforgiving world that is being replicated.
When the action starts you’re thrown into the edge-like life of Darren (played with superb resonance by Laurie Jamieson) and his big brother Elliot (Played with admirable menace by Joshua Mayes Cooper) who survive on their wits in this new world and not much more.
The story moves at a very good pace and once it has hold of you it doesn’t let go, to the point that this 2 hours 20 minutes performance doesn’t actually include an interval, which makes it all the more immersive and entertaining because of the subject matter.
The timing of the entry, and the backstory, of Naz (Played with great relish by the great Nima Taleghani) is pitched quite well but the building of the relationship between him and Darren is done with absolutely the right amount of suggestion and, when it becomes slightly more controversial than you expect, it does seem to fit very well with the surroundings and the story, and is very well acted and very sensitively handled by the two actors.
With the clearly very disturbed Darren (who has a penchant for eating butterflies as if they’re hard drugs) being bossed by Elliot and the developing friendship with the very disturbed but also impossibly laid-back Naz you begin to genuinely care and worry about the characters and you also start to wonder what the ending will be like.
Elliot’s true love Lola (daringly well played by Laurence North) is a genuine character to remember with great control and desire.
The part of Spinx (admirably portrayed by Edward Cole) is very well developed by the three main characters even before you see him, and when he arrives he is exactly as you imagine him, as long as your imagination stretches to a man with a blonde mohican and wearing trousers, boots and a 3/4 length fur coat.
When Spinx arrives he has a surprise guest with him called The Duchess (played by the wonderful Madeleine MacMahon), whose appearance causes great panic even before she enters the room. The Duchess is quite a peripheral part in some ways, but absolutely essential and heartbreakingly lovable and understated all at the same time.
10-year-old Charlie Thompson is very strong as the character known only as The Party Piece, around whom this whole sordid party is built, along with the Party Guest (played rather convincingly by James Stanyer) and as the production moves towards its seemingly horrific ending it doesn’t wilt in any way shape or form.
The story is driven along by the power of suggestion, particularly by Spinx, which seems to suggest an awful fate for the Party Piece at the hands of the bloodthirsty Party Guest, but even as the meat hook is being sharpened a terrible twist befalls one of the other characters.
Finally, as the Party Guest gets his evil way in the bathroom, the whole audience are left sitting in what is effectively the Living Room, hearing bitter and almost sickening howls of pain, before the Party Guest is stopped by an unexpected interruption and his victim is taken from his grasp and brought back in a thoroughly horrible mess.
Eventually the production ends as it began, with Darren and Elliot arguing and clearing up the mess, but this time there’s a difference which leaves it with the sort of cliffhanger ending that the story demands.
The whole piece is expertly directed by Paul Smith, last week he told me that Middle Child “Really want to challenge audiences with this one.” That objective is very powerfully achieved in breathtaking fashion, take a bow Middle Child Theatre Company.