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Mercury Fur is the fifth adult stage play by Philip Ridley and is his most controversial to date. It was premiered at the Plymouth Theatre Royal, transferring to the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, in 2005.
It was directed by John Tiffany as part of Paines Plough and Theatre Royal, Plymouth in England season of new writing. 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, London.
Mercury Fur is set in a post-apocalyptic version of London's East End where terror, gangs, violence, and drugs in the form of butterflies rule. The protagonists are a gang of youths surviving by their wits. They deal the butterflies, engaging in trade with objects from places like the British Museum, looted by their butterfly-addicted customers. But their main source of 'income' is holding parties for wealthy clients in which their wildest fantasies are brought to life.
In 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.
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 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 The Sunday Times John Peter 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 and Miranda Sawyer 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 since produced around the world with productions in Prague, America, Australia, Germany, Japan, Paris, Rome, Malta, and Turkey.
The Italian Premiere of Mercury Fur was produced by Trilly Prod. in Rome. It opened in April 2006, under the direction of Carlo Emilio Lerici. The play will be on stage again in May 2007, at Belli Theatre in Rome.
The US Premiere of Mercury Fur was produced by Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company in Santa Ana, California. Rude Guerilla. It opened in March 2007, under the direction of Dave Barton.
The Broken Compass' Chicago production played in April and May 2007, under the direction of Greg Beam.
The Australian Premiere of Mercury Fur opened on 30 August 2007, produced by little death productions. 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. The production was directed by Ben Packer.
The Turkish Premiere of Mercury Fur opened on 18 October 2007, produced by DOT, under the direction of Murat Daltaban in İstanbul.
In February 2008, it premiered by Unifaun Theatre in Malta, directed by Chris Gatt with Irene Christ as the Duchess.
In February 2010 the first major London revival of Mercury Fur was directed by Frances Loy and staged by Theatre Delicatessen. The revival was a critical and commercial success with the production selling out. The cast included Matt Granados, Chris Urch, Isaac Jones, Debra Baker, Tom Vickers, Ben Wigzell and Mikey Barj.
In February 2012 Theatre'dArt mounted a production of Mercury Fur in Colorado Springs. The production was directed by Irene Hessner.
The last performance of Mercury Fur was produced by Blue Ass Monkey Theater Company for a limited run in December 2012 at the Atlantic Stage 2 Theater in New York City.