3-4 Picton Place
Theatre Delicatessen couldn't conceivably have picked a more ideal play with which to kick off their latest found-space residency. Mercury Fur is a perfect fit for a bold young company (provided it's staged with maturity), as well as for the space, a disused office block just off Oxford Street - though it may not be exactly the right play for the moment.
Accessed via a fire escape overlooking a bleak concrete non-space hemmed in by buildings, the space is dingy, litter-strewn and neglected - but the soft furnishings remain intact (if grubby), a solitary unbroken china bowl is discovered amongst the empty crisp packets, and a dark, weighty wooden bookcase endures against one wall. It's a setting immediately evocative of the play's alternate London: of affluence and prosperity run rapidly to ruin.
Hastily tidied and swept, the space becomes the setting for a rich city worker's sick wish-fulfilment, organised by a group of youths in exchange for the means to their own survival. The young cast - especially leading duo Matt Granados and Chris Urch as tight-knit brothers Elliot and Darren - fearlessly harness and ride Ridley's powerful dialogue, embracing the thought-provoking contradiction between their determination not only to survive but to protect one another, and the means they're willing to use to achieve that end.
This is the play's first major London revival since it opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2005. Having since arguably passed into canon, it's unlikely to cause as much of a stir this time around; and though Ridley's near-hopeless future may chime with the national mood of doom and gloom, the breakdown of civilisation via widespread habitual hallucinogenic drug abuse is hardly the apocalypse du jour. We only have ourselves to blame for the crises we face at the turn of the teenies (climate change and the credit crunch), while outside agency plus human nature plus time is the formula for the end in Mercury Fur.
Hence, while in no way sidelining or shying away from the violence, Delicatessen place heavy emphasis on the role of Elliot: the de facto guardian of humanity's culture, mythology and history, by dint of being the only non-user in the group, and therefore the only one that remembers the world as we know it. The childlike eagerness of Darren and Naz (an incongruously innocent-seeming Mikey Bharj) for tales of life before the fall, and the delight Elliot takes in the telling, provide the only threads of hope that either the characters or the audience can grasp.
It's evidence that the controversy that greeted its premiere was not all Mercury Fur had to offer; even with its shocks somewhat blunted by foreknowledge, it just takes the right company in the right space to reveal the heart behind the horrors.
Reviewer: Matt Boothman