Here and Then: Theatricalizing Space–Time Compression in Philip Ridley's Mercury Fur
Philip Ridley has made a career of courting controversy in his work for the stage, from the claustrophobia and anxiety of his first play, 1991's The Pitchfork Disney, to the sprawling, ragtag Karagula, whose one-star review in the Telegraph led with the provocative headline, “Is Karagula the Worst Play of 2016?” But perhaps no play in Ridley's oeuvre has attracted as much notoriety as 2005's Mercury Fur, an intense, unrelenting, “interval-less two-hour piece” whose premiere divided critical opinion and provoked walkouts. Paines Plough, the company that commissioned the play, reports that “at least ten audience members a night left every show, unable to take the atmosphere of threat and violence portrayed on stage.” Mercury Fur is set in a futuristic English dystopia whose aimless youth find their grasp on history—and their own memories—slipping away as they become addicted to hallucinogenic butterflies released upon the populace by an ambiguous invading power. While the protagonist, Elliot, ekes out a living peddling butterflies in an ice cream van, he and his brother, Darren, make their real money from throwing “parties,” clandestine meetings for rich clients who pay exorbitantly to fulfill their most violent and murderous sexual fantasies. The play, performed in real time, sees the frantic preparation for—and eventual botched execution of—one such party for a City of London executive (the Party Guest), whose Vietnam War–themed fantasy involves torturing and killing a child Elvis Presley impersonator (the Party Piece) with a meat hook. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, moral outrage attended Mercury Fur’s initial run, with Faber, Ridley's longtime publisher, going so far as to refuse to print the play. But a number of critics and spectators rose to defend the integrity and artistic merit of Ridley's work, a position I extend in this paper.
Volume / Issue
Start / End Page
Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)
International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)