One of Mercury Fur’s defining features is its shock factor. It is potent, unsettling and loud in all aspects – plot, characters, setting, the works. Following a gang of youths who work to fulfil their clients’ wildest and most disturbing fantasies, playwright Philip Ridley deliberately seeks to vivify a violent, lawless dystopia that leaves his audience breathless.
For this reason, Mercury Fur, in the way Ridley intended it, can only ever be a play. It absolutely thrives on the power of live, in-your-face theatre and the possibilities that can only come when an audience is a present witness, mere metres from what they are watching. In a review of Mercury Fur, performed in Islington in 2012, Honour Bayes describes the very real fear she felt when an explosion went off on stage; being in the room with the chaos of the play means the stakes are so much higher. She recalls how “people emerged from the theatre blinking and shaking” and describes the production as “a genuinely physical experience”.
No other comment could make the necessity of its theatrical setting clearer. Of course, in an ever-developing technological world, the possibilities of film are increasingly endless and unbelievably impressive in their own right. But, no matter how convincing the special effects or how cleverly crafted the sound design, there will always be a distance in film, a literal screen division between watcher and performer. By contrast, audiences are made to process plays in a far more physical, literal and immediate way.
Of course, a suspension of disbelief is required. We are rationally aware that the events playing out before us are fictional, and that we are, in fact, in an isolated room amongst a relatively small group of people, physically separated from the outside world whilst also often being affronted with it. However, this exclusivity and immediacy is one of the key reasons that many identify theatre as the last sacred art form. The performance becomes a far more intense act of communication, as actors can directly address and affect in a way they can’t at the cinema.
The fact that complete realism cannot be achieved as it can in a film is also far from a disadvantage. The possibilities of lighting, sound and direction allow creative experimentation to thrive and can all contribute to a unique and much more vivid experience. Reality is less enhanced when a camera and microphone are involved, but often a divergence from realism is far more effective in evoking the responses that Ridley is clearly after in his play: those that shock and affront rather than molly-coddle audiences. Indeed, a recent Palatinate article by Will Entwistle discussing the censorship of violence in theatre insists that art worth experiencing is not always enjoyable.
Whilst theatre is often associated with transportation and escapism, much of its magic comes in its ability to intensify the present moment through the physical proximity and directness with which audiences must confront a production. There one week and gone the next, changing and adapting with each performance, it is an exciting and incomparable art form that plays into the hands of the most outrageous of pieces brilliantly.
Don’t miss Mercury Fur – tickets available here.
By Elvira Parr