- > 2005
- > 2006
- > 2007
- > 2008
- > 2009
- > 2010
- > 2012
- > 2013
- > 2014
- > 2015
- > 2016
- > 2017
AUTHOR: Philip Ridley
VENUE: MITP, Valletta
DATES: 1, 2, 3 · 8, 9, 10 Febuary 2008
DIRECTOR: Chris Gatt
CAST: Irene Christ, Chris Galea, Mikhail Pisani, Edward Caruana Galizia, Barrie Stott, Jan Zammit, Toni Attard, Francis Nwobodo
SUMMARY: The world is at its worst! Let the party begin!
What the Press said:
2008 Maltese Theatre Round Up
" . . . for sheer bravado we feel that the title of the best production for the season must go to Unifaun's brilliant staging of Philip Ridley's unconventional drama Mercury Fur at the MITP Theatre in Valletta. Apart from the silly nonsense that occurred right at the beginning of the evening, when the audience were herded like cattle into their extremely uncomfortable seats, the production was a triumph. Director Chris Gatt (Is there anybody else directing theatre these days?) was on top form and marshalled a largely unknown and inexperienced cast beautifully." -Showtime, 6 June 2008.
"We were treated to a number of fine performances this season, so selecting the cream of the crop was not easy. We were however mightily impressed by two performances by young, comparatively unknown actors, Sean Buhagiar in Sulari and Equus and Chris Galea in Mercury Fur." -Showtime, 6 June 2008.
THE STUFF NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF
Kenneth Zammit Tabona agonises over the terrifying properties of various coloured butterflies but is redeemed in the end by a little thing called Love.
Wagner’s gods have long disappeared into their eternal twilight taking with them the final vestiges of heroism and poetry that in other times and other worlds successfully disguised the ghastly panoply of war. After Siegfried’s funeral pyre burned Valhalla, the river Rhine overflowed its banks. War was over and the serene strains of Wagner’s Rhine Music brought Gotterdammerung, and War, to a close. Or so we thought. The Great War broke out setting the tone for the 20th Century. It ushered in the bloodiest century mankind had experienced as yet as 9/11 did in our own present sad and tortured one; the 21st , with its cynically waged and deadly war in Iraq. Because of the way we are we tend to gloss over the ugly side of war which unleashes the devils in us all, we tend to believe the propaganda about kind soldiers with flowers in their helmets playing with children and distributing chocolate and dismiss the many aberrations and atrocities that also happen, inevitably and always by these same soldiers in hell-holes like Guantanamo Bay.
Mercury Fur may be allegorical but it is real. Philip Ridley, choosing as the enemy’s deadliest weapon, a butterfly, the symbol of Love, rent to bits yet another myth just as effectively as Wagner. I can never now look at Canova’s Cupid and Psyche with the ethereal marble butterfly cupped in her hand in quite the same way again. Butterflies that if ingested induce hallucinations and complete and utter mayhem in which fathers slaughter children and the same children gang rape others, supermarkets are knee deep in blood and limbs are hacked from torsos; a ghoulish phantasmagoria conjured up by the painfully eked out memories of the characters in Philip Ridley’s play that had my brain writhing and squirming in a torment of indecision all night about how I was going to write this crit! It is a tribute to Ridley’s artistic bent for he is also an artist that his imagery comes across so vividly in his prose. Not all artists can wield the pen and the brush with equal dexterity as this rebel East ender who portrays both visually and in prose the very dark and seamy side of our lives which if we look closely is not so far removed from our comfort zones as we think.
Like a crazed ballerina spinning on tiptoe; faster and faster, the action of the play escalates towards ‘the party’ in which a Soldier played by a brash and frighteningly vital Jan Zammit has paid, and heavily too, to get his sexually charged revenge on an informer who he insists is a young black performer dressed as a wannabe Elvis; ‘the party piece’ played sleepily by young Francis Nwobodo. When ‘the party piece’ dies before the Soldier can get any reaction out of him, Spinks, the ruthless boss replaces the ‘party piece’ with Naz played by Barrie Stott. The Soldier is so worked up into a sexually charged frenzy that he agrees and starts to beat Naz with a meat hook. This is too much for Darren played by Mik Pisani who shoots the Soldier. From there the action finally resolves and a pale ray of hope appears in an otherwise black scenario that resolves in the final air-raid, the one to end all air-raids.
That’s the action part. The more important aspect of the play is the psychological one. Elliot played by Chris Galea is the lynchpin of the entire action both physical and psychological. It is he alone who is not dependant on a diet of butterflies to blank out the horrors around him, and, more significantly, in his memory. Despite his ranting and raving he genuinely loves his vulnerable kid brother Darren and also loves Lola who is Spinks’s younger transvestite brother played amazingly by Edward Caruana Galizia. Elliot is a truly rounded and developed character whom Galea plays with passion and conviction. I was riveted by his performance throughout.
I have absolutely nothing but praise for the entire cast, Naze played sensitively by Barrie Stott, The Duchess played with great pathos by Irene Christ, I will never forget her singing the Brahms Lullaby in its original German with the ‘party piece’ on her lap, and Spinks, the villain of the play whom we discover is not as dreadful as we thought, played convincingly by Toni Attard who managed to lose the iron control he had over the others and yet retain a mysterious dignity when he carried Naz’s lacerated body offstage.
We discover that what we were seeing and experiencing was the human flotsam and jetsam of a disaster, a catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions. One in which the British Museum, the symbol of civilization has been smashed and looted. Elliot is the only one who is fully aware of this which is why he carries the play single-handed like a thespian Atlas.
What is so improbable but so real about Mercury Fur is no matter how disturbed we were by what was going on, no matter how deep into moral and psychological depravity we sank along with the characters, they all, with the exception of The Soldier, were redeemed. We find out that Spinks had made a deal with The Soldier to save the rest from the imminent deadly bombing raid and invasion. Darren; poor little weak Darren, shoots the soldier to save Naz. Elliot was ready to sacrifice Naz to save Lola and Darren and as for Spinks himself, his patience with the blind and epileptic Duchess showed that he was not altogether the tough gangster he was made out to be. En passant, when the flashbacks are pieced together, we are given to understand that Elliot and Darren are the Duchess’s sons and the role of Spinks and his brother Lola are called into question. A strange and twisted post-cataclysm family in which the outsiders, Naz and The Soldier, are sacrificed in order to save the weird family nucleus of which they are not fully aware of themselves.
This is not a comfortable play to watch; far from it. Because it deals with what is potentially true and what we tend to ignore on our TV screens day in and day out our otherwise tough-skinned bubbles of contentment are assailed big time. Chris Gatt and Adrian Buckle have done a marvelous job on this play which depressed and elated me at the same time. Chris for directing the play so convincingly as to pull us down into an abyss of a world which we can only imagine in our worst nightmares and Adrian for producing a play that despite its utter blackness is redeemed, if momentarily, by that indestructible human feeling called Love before all is destroyed forever; butterflies and all.
KENNETH ZAMMIT TABONA — WEEKENDER, 9 FEBRUARY 2008
The direction brings out the crescendo from opening to closing scene. The first scenes; which are linguistically very coarse, have their comic aspect mainly because of Elliot’s impatience with his brother’s slow-moving intellect, and the latter’s frightening but ultimately pitiful ignorance. As the play continues to develop, it becomes continually tenser and more frightening, particularly after the entrance of Spinx (Toni Attard), whose fierceness and seeming callousness conceal his feelings of anxious care not only for his companion, the Duchess (a memorable performance by Irene Christ), whose mind and health have been destroyed in the violent incident we hear about where her sons (Darren and Elliot?) - were badly beaten up, but also for the two boys whose probable relationship with his beloved Duchess make Spinx’s protection more understandable. All the sexual relationships in the play are homosexual: Spinx himself reveals his homosexuality in a scene with Elliot, so his relationship with the Duchess is surely meant to be purely emotional.
A young friend who saw the play on another night than the one I attended, remarked to me that the production does not bring out ‘sufficiently the horrors clearly enunciated in the script.’ It would certainly have been possible to make the action in some moments correspond so closely to the script as to come very near pornography. This I certainly do not regret, but I myself did feel that the final scenes of the production could have been more frighteningly overwhelming than in fact they were. All but the catastrophic last scene, where light and sound are used magnificently to paint the destruction of a hard-won loving relationship by the forces of blind evil.
Apart from the very strong performances of Attard, Christ and Galea, who succeeds in portraying Elliot as a young man just managing to keep his sanity as he negotiates, his life of hideous deeds, I must record the ability of all the young actors, none of them known to me.
Under Gatt’s direction, they enabled me to make a very willing suspension of disbelief as they ‘lived’ their tortured existence a few metres away from me.
- DR PAUL XUEREB, THE SUNDAY TIMES, 10 FEBRUARY 2008
Chris Gatt’s direction was very fast paced. This was reflected in the excellent interpretations of the young cast who exceeded all expectations and showed great talent, maturity and stamina, even if some of them were inexperienced actors. The play moved at breath-taking pace, but paused for some rare moments of intimacy, which were all the more underlined by the frenetic rhythm at which the play was performed. These were moments which prepared the audience to take a deep breath before plunging into the horror of what was to follow.I assure you that Ridley’s concept is one of the most cruel and unkind, one that spares no one. It was all excellently complimented by the language used as well as the loud music and sound effects that contributed to create the chaotic atmosphere. I was especially taken in by a quotation from Leavitt used by the author to introduce his play. “Sometimes brutality is the only antidote to sorrow.”
- TAKEN FROM A REVIEW BY JOYCE GUILLAUMIER, IT-TORCA, 24/2/08
MERCURY FUR which recently played to packed audiences at the MITP theatre is a Unifaun Theatre production. It is bleak; it is unremitting: but the more oppressive things become, the more shockingly valuable the streaks of altruism and love are when they appear. Marie Benoît invites a handful of people from the audience to comment.
Mercury Fur isn’t your average kind of play. First and foremost, it is an experience. Unifaun’s production of Philip Ridley’s work masterfully created the atmosphere and setting to engulf the audience into a post-apocalyptic world where Hope is highly unlikely. Those who deemed this play as controversial because of the violence it portrays and the heavy use of explicit language clearly need to see the work again. The two main, young characters, Elliot and Darren, are unfortunate enough to experience the worst end of the world possible, corrupting their adolescent minds with drugs and blood spilling. They trudge along an existence that is barely liveable. Yet, even though their life is as hard as it could possibly get, their strained but very strong brotherhood prevails up until the last scene. It seems to tell us that truly, love conquers all in the end. Mercury Fur purges the soul, no matter how bleak is the vision of the world which presents to us. Once again, Unifaun has graced the Maltese theatregoers with a contemporary showpiece, which not only entertains, but challenges minds and raises questions. Very well done, Adrian Buckle, Chris Gatt, the talented actors and all those that were involved in the production of Mercury Fur. Keep up the marvellous work!
Mercury Fur left me totally disturbed but at the end also enlightened. A roller coaster of contrasting emotions and revelations, I’d ike to describe it as a unique theatre experience due to it’s horrific subject, and the way it was produced, and one that should not be missed. It has an excellent script to start off with and the piece was brillantly directed by Chris Gatt. Mercury Fur left the audience thinking as it went beyond the borders of normality and the obvious. Understanding human relations has always been difficult, even for the most profound expert on human affairs, but often it takes only patience and ultimately love, to understand why people behave the way they do, and that given time, and again love, people will see the light and find a way out of hell. The actors, new and well established, were superb. Mercury Fur, was a visual and soul searching feast for all those who watched it. There is more than one reality out there, and not all of them are beautiful. Well done to Unifaun Theatre who are investing in real and professional theatre productions. I look forward to their next production at the Manoel Theatre.
At first glance it may seem like a very raw play, one which makes you wince. This is triggered both by the words used and the many gut twisting descriptions of violence. You cannot run away from them, against your wishes your imagination takes the better of you and you start to visualize everything; machete, blood, meat hook, butterflies, rape, murder— without an interval this makes it even worse because one is continuously immersed in this inhumane horror. However, as sick as it may sound seeing it more than once made me realize that there is more to it than meets the eye. The audience is taken into a time where there seems to be no hope for anyone, where life itself is abused of and where man does whatever it takes to survive. No matter how vulgar the conversations are between the actors one finds strange moments of beauty and humour and one may find oneself laughing out loud at very sadistic but hilarious comments. I don’t really know what it was that made me like Mercury Fur so much, but I must say that all in all it is theatrically intriguing.
I had read parts of the Mercury Fur script a while ago and was very much looking forward to what promised to be an interesting evening. And I wasn’t disappointed. Unifaun has a reputation for putting up good, quality theatre with an edge and I had no doubt that director Chris Gatt would put his own unique stamp on the production. The staging and lighting was spot on, I thought, and the performances by the young actors, many of whom were new to the scene, were all exceptional. I might be biased as I have know him since he was a young lad of 14 when we acted together in West Side Story, but I thought Edward Caruana Galizia was a star, with the other main actors Chris Galea, Mik Pisani and Barrie Stott giving very creditable and credible performances. Toni Attard, Irene Christ, Jan Zammit and Francis Nwobodo rounded up the strong cast. I have no doubt that a lot of work went in to the staging of this play and it was certainly another feather in Adrian Buckle’s cap.
Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur is not a play to be taken lightly since it centres around the planned ritual murder of a young boy. It is set in a post apocalyptic world where personal and national memories have been lost, where loyalties shift unpredictably, where life is cheap. Unifaun Theatre’s production of the play as superbly directed by Chris Gatt kept me on edge expecting the unexpected. Praise and credit must go to the young cast’s ensemble acting and excellent characterisations throughout. The distorted sounds, the light design and the shabby set helped create an atmosphere of a real world on the brink of collective madness. In spite of the tough language and gore that lace the play I relished the mixture of humour and menace that climax in the excellently executed inyour- face bloody end. The moral of Ridley’s controversial play is loud and clear - humanity has a short memory and does not learn from past histories of violence but there is always a ray of hope for friendship and loyalty to triumph, albeit at a cost.
I really liked the atmosphere created by the actors and director both before and during the play. I think the way the audience was ordered to enter the theatre was very effective as it instantly gives you a feeling of foreboding and a feeling that you are putting yourself in actual danger. The set up for the stage was excellent as well. I must say I thought the effects used during the whole duration of the play proved to be very realistic and in my opinion giving this made the whole scene being played before the audience more believable and not just some form of extremely active imagination of the author of the play. The actors did a splendid job, especially, the main actor, playing the part of Elliot. His attention to detail really impressed me. Speaking as someone who is not a very regular theatre goer, Mercury Fur is the best play I have seen so far.
GALERIJA – THE MALTA INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY 24 FEBRUARY 2008
pictures by Joseph A. Borg