Mercury Fur

May 7 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Visceral but variable

Assembly Roxy Tue 6 – Wed 7 May 2014

RIOT Productions of St Andrews have shown commendable ambition in staging Philip Ridley’s controversial Mercury Fur at the Assembly Roxy. If the evening is not wholly satisfactory, this is as much due to the original work as it is to this production.

Sebastian Carrington-Howell and Tommy Rowe. Photo © Caterina Giammarresi

Sebastian Carrington-Howell and Tommy Rowe. Photo © Caterina Giammarresi

In a near-future London, machete-wielding gangs roam the supermarkets and a large proportion of the population are hooked on ‘butterflies’ that provide immersion in violent images while destroying the user’s brain.

Brothers Elliot and Darren are doing what they can to survive – which includes putting on ‘parties’ where guests can indulge their darkest fantasies, including filming the torturing and murder of children.

So far, so revolting. On the other hand, there are some possibilities of hope in the dystopian setting, with much of the play dealing with family connections and other types of love.

There has been a great deal of argument surrounding this work, and it is true that the subject matter will be too much for some to stomach. There is certainly also a great deal of swearing, which provides one of the weaker elements of the production, as not all of the cast appear to be the most natural swearers. However, the overall effect is not as stomach-churning as the hype might suggest, and the less easily shocked may not find their attention wholly captured throughout.

This is more of a tragedy than any kind of thriller, as the concluding events are signalled far in advance and any shocks come from the nature of the onstage events rather than plot twists. The apocalyptic happenings that caused the breakdown of society are never really explained and the degree to which things  have disintegrated does not seem wholly consistent over the piece. These would not be problems in a much shorter work, but as the play clocks in at over two and a half hours without an interval, it all begins to feel oddly attenuated.

Add to this a series of long monologues which attempt an awkward balance of the horrifying and the lyrical, and it would need some extremely high-powered performances to stop the attention wandering slightly. Despite some praiseworthy efforts, this is not quite what is on offer here.

“…equal parts Gloucester from King Lear and Maria out of The Sound Of Music…”

Sebastian Carrington-Howell as Elliot and Tommy Rowe as Darren have a great deal of responsibility in the central roles. Both actors are impressive, with Carrington-Howell particularly strong as a young man doing whatever it takes to protect those he loves. Ultimately, however, neither manages to make us care enough about what happens to the characters.

Ku Boane (Elliot’s girlfriend Lola) is perhaps the most successful performer as she manages to convey the sense of moral conflict missing in the brothers. Frazer Hadfield, as the brothers’ helper Naz, also manages to portray a rounded and believable character. Taryn O’Connor is largely successful in her endeavours to make something out of the thankless role of the boy selected as the Party Guest’s victim.

Joseph Cunningham throws himself into the part of the Party Guest with gusto; however, his performance is more than a little cartoonish, which diminishes the effect of such an abhorrent individual. Some of the other roles suffer from the opposite problem; it is stressed before his arrival how frightening the brothers’ boss Spinx is, so Oli Clayton’s considered performance is always going to be something of a letdown in the menace stakes.

Similarly, Ayanna Coleman-Potempa could afford to be a little more rococo as the mysterious Duchess, as a role apparently comprised of equal parts Gloucester from King Lear and Maria out of The Sound Of Music will never lend itself to any kind of underplaying.

Director Jocelyn Cox keeps a tight control on things. The staging is simple but effective, with the lighting particularly appropriate. Any imperfections in effects or fight choreography can largely be forgiven due to the ambition that lies behind them. What could be improved is the occasional tendency for actors to deliver their lines away from the audience, which can render them inaudible.

Overall, this is a brave production, with a high level of care and attention, and it is to Black Dingo Productions’ credit that it has been brought to Edinburgh. Nagging doubts remain that the play is not nearly as big or as clever as it would like to be, and would only be worth seeing again in a drastically cut-down version.

Running time 2 hrs 35 mins (no interval)
Run ends Wednesday 7th May 2014
Evenings 8pm
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, Edinburgh EH8 9SU
Information at


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