Mercury Fur

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Mercury Fur imagery by Theatre Delicatessen

Mercury Fur is a play set against the backdrop of a dystopian future where hallucinogenic butterflies are on sale. The narrative focuses on a party at which the torture and murder of a child is its main entertainment. It was the fifth adult stage play by Philip Ridley. It premiered at the Plymouth Theatre Royal, moving to the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, in 2005.[1]

It was directed by John Tiffany as part of a season of new writing by Paines Plough and Theatre Royal, Plymouth in England.[2] The part of Elliot was played by Ben Whishaw, who had become famous the previous year as the youngest modern Hamlet in Trevor Nunn's production at the Old Vic Theatre in London.[3]


Mercury Fur is set in a post-apocalyptic version of London's East End, where gang violence and drugs - in the form of butterflies - terrorize the community. The protagonists are a gang of youths surviving by their wits. They deal in the butterflies, selling them to their butterfly-addicted customers from places like the amazing British Museum. Their main source of income however is holding parties for wealthy clients in which their wildest fantasies are brought to life.

During the non-stop two hours of the play, the party in question revolves around the murder of a child with a meat hook, staged in a Vietnam-style fantasy of the Party Guest. The gang ultimately has to face the question of how far they are willing to go to save the people they love.

Critical response[edit]

The play became a huge cause celebre when it premiered, with even Ridley's publishers of ten years, Faber and Faber, refusing to publish the text.

Critical response was almost as fevered as the events on stage with Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph[4] declaring everyone concerned with the production had been 'degraded' and, more controversially, that Ridley was 'turned on by his own sick fantasies.'

But there was a lot of support for the play too, with John Peter[5] drama critic of The Sunday Times urging people to see it: It is a play you need to see for its diagnosis of a terror-stricken and belligerent civilization. I recommend it strongly to the strong in heart.

It set the critics at odds with each other, with Guardian front liner Michael Billington (critic) insisted that the portrayed 'social breakdown ... flies in the face of a mass of evidence one could produce to the contrary', whilst Lyn Gardner[6] and Miranda Sawyer[7] joined the ranks of those stalwartly siding with the lyricism of the piece.

Despite this controversy – or perhaps because of it – the play sold out on its initial run and, by the end, was playing to an enthusiastic young audience. It has since created a cult following of its own, with theatre makers desperate to retell its story and audiences to see the story being told.


Mercury Fur has been performed worldwide in countries such as Australia, Germany, Japan, France, Italy, Malta, Turkey, the Czech Republic and the United States. It is currently being performed at the Under St. Marks Theater in New York City.

Country Year Location People Details
Italy 2006 Belli Theatre, Rome Trilly Productions; Directed by Carlo Emilio Lerici Opened in April 2006, on stage again in May 2007
USA (CA) 2007 Rude Guerilla,[8] Santa Ana Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company; Directed by Dave Barton Opened in March 2007
USA (IL) 2007 The Broken Compass, Chicago Directed by Greg Beam Production played in April and May 2007
Australia 2007 Melbourne/Sydney Little Death Productions; Directed by Ben Packer Opened on 30 August 2007. It played first at Theatreworks in Melbourne, before transferring to the SBW Stables Theatre in Sydney as part of Griffin Theatre Company's 2007 Stablemates season.
Turkey 2008 Istanbul DOT; Directed by Murat Daltaban Opened on 18 October 2007
Malta 2008 Unifaun Theatre, Malta Directed by Chris Gatt; Irene Christ playing The Duchess Opened February 2008
USA (CA) 2009 Imagined Life Theatre,[9] Los Angeles Need Theatre;[10] Directed by Dado Opened May 2009
England 2010 Theatre Delicatessen, London Directed by Frances Loy; Cast included Matt Granados, Chris Urch, Isaac Jones, Debra Baker, Tom Vickers, Ben Wigzell and Mikey Barj.[11] Opened in February 2010, The first major London revival, It was a critical and commercial success with the production selling out.
USA (NY) 2010 The Tank, New York City Directed by Glynis Rigsby Opened in March 2010
USA (CO) 2012 Theatre'dArt, Colorado Springs Directed by Irene Hessner Opened in February 2012
USA (NY) 2012 Atlantic Stage 2 Theater, New York City Blue Ass Monkey Theater Company Produced for a limited run in December 2012
USA (NY) 2014 Under St. Marks Theater, New York City Savage Detectives Theatre Company and Just a Gentleman Productions. Directed by Guillermo Logar; Cast includes Peter John Wallace, John Anthony Gorman, Rafael Albarran, Franco Pedicini, Enrique Huili, Nic Westwood, Valentina Corbella and Joseph Huffman. Stage Manager: Charles Furst. Opens November 13, 2014.