Oct 28 2021 | By More

★★★★☆  Twisted romance

The Biscuit Factory: Wed 27 Oct 2021
Review by Tom Ralphs

Set in a motel room somewhere in America, Bug begins like a twisted tale of romance but ends as a case study of how conspiracy, paranoia and wild theories can escalate into all-encompassing self-destructive philosophies.

The play sees EGTG return to Pulitzer Prize-winner Tacy Letts with a rather more intimate script than the multi-generational August, Osage County which Bug’s director David Grimes took on with the company back in 2014.

Bug is a very different entity to Letts’ more famous and sprawling work. It has a cast of five, but the story revolves almost entirely around Agnes (Wendy Brindle) and Peter (Stewart Kerr) with the rest of the cast reduced very much to almost unnecessary supporting roles.

Grace Gilbert, Stewart Kerr and Wendy Brindle. Pic: EGTG

As the play opens, Agnes is being plagued with anonymous phone calls that she suspects are from her ex-partner Jerry (Colin Johnston), released from prison a lot earlier than she expected. Her friend RC (Grace Gilbert) calls in on her way to a party, and is soon joined by Peter, the man who was supposed to be going with her.

His first words are ‘I’m not a mass murderer’, although the lines are drowned out by overlapping dialogue. The fact that he needs to say this should immediately set off alarm bells, but is offset by what seems to be just quirkiness.

As we start to find out more about Peter, each bit of information raises more questions than it answers. He has sworn off women for several years but insists that he is straight. He starts to see bugs in the motel room but is only the person to do so, and is also completely opposed to the suggestion of getting the building super in to deal with it.

unconventional relationship

Alongside this, Jerry enters the fray, using his pass key to return to somewhere he’s not meant to be. As this stage, he looks to be the biggest threat to the unconventional relationship developing between Agnes and Peter, but any suggestion that this is going to be a domestic abuse drama, with homicide thrown in, turn out to be wide of the mark.

It is, of course, the bugs. Are they in the room or just in Peter’s imagination? If they are in the room, how did they get there? Peter’s past offers a possible explanation involving covert experiments on soldiers which come with the usual questions of what exactly the US government were trying to achieve and what mental health issues they might have unleashed on the unknowing conscripts.

Stewart Kerr and Colin Johnston. Pic: EGTG

As Agnes gets drawn further and further into Peter’s world, she dismisses claims that he is a psychiatric patient, suffering from severe delusions, choosing to believe his version of events and everything that springs from it.

She too is soon seeing bugs everywhere, and the double meaning of the title becomes clear as the bugs move from being aphids to anything including implanted chips monitoring their movements.

Kerr’s portrayal of Peter’s mental health issues is chilling as the small bugs in his mind grow into something ever more dangerous, and Brindle’s descent from a logical thinker into someone swatting away bugs and taking drastic action to stop them transmitting their message, shows how easily small obsessions can spiral out of control.

an extra relevance

David Grimes’s direction and Hazel Eddie and Grace Gilbert’s make up design become increasingly grotesque as the blood count and self-mutilation grows and cuts and sores make the two lead actor’s look increasingly like casualties of chemical warfare.

EGTGs production was to have gone up in the Biscuit Factory a year ago. The delay has given the play an extra relevance, with several crossovers that could easily be read as a case study of where Covid and vaccine conspiracy theories can lead when they go unchecked.

Where there are problems with the production, they stem mostly from Letts’ script with a first act that takes a long while to get going. Plot lines involving Jerry and RC come across as diversions that could inform the play – without either character being seen – and the decision to make Dr Sweet a German risks reducing her to a B movie caricature.

In the production itself, other than lines lost through overlapping dialogue at the opening of both acts, there is little to fault and a lot to admire.

Running time: Two hours and 10 minutes (including one interval)
The Biscuit Factory, 4-6 Anderson Place, EH6 5NP
Wednesday 27 to Saturday 30 October 2021
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

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