Mercury Fur

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Mercury Fur
Td mercury fur.jpg
Mercury Fur imagery by Theatre Delicatessen
Written by Philip Ridley
Characters 6 male, 1 female and 1 transgender female
Date premiered 10th February 2005
Place premiered Drum Theatre, Plymouth
Original language English
Subject Abuse, Addiction, Drugs, Choice, Gang violence, Language, Love, Manipulation, Memory, Psychochemical warfare, Sexual violence, Social disintegration, Storytelling, Survival.
Genre Apocalyptic fiction, In-yer-face theatre
Setting "A derelict flat in a derelict estate in the East End of London."

Mercury Fur is a play written by Philip Ridley which premiered in 2005. Set against the backdrop of a dystopian London, the narrative focuses on a party at which the torture and murder of a child is the main entertainment. It is Ridley's fifth adult stage play and premiered at the Plymouth Theatre Royal, moving to the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, in 2005.[1]

The original production was directed by John Tiffany as part of the This Other England 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]

The play is the first entry in Ridley's unofficially titled "Brothers Trilogy", being followed by Leaves of Glass and Piranha Heights.[4][5]

Ridley dedicated the play to his agent Rod Hall before he was murdered in May 2004.[6][7][8]


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

The play, during nearly two uninterrupted hours, centres on a party which revolves around the sadistic murder of a child, enacted according to the whims of a guest. The gang ultimately has to face the question of how far they are willing to go to save the people they love.


Elliot - Aged 19, he is the main facilitator in preparing the parties as well as being the chief dealer in butterflies which he sells in an ice cream van. He however has only ever taken one, meaning he has retained all his memories from before the butterflies arrived. He hurls a great deal of verbal abuse at Darren but also shows genuine love for him.

Darren - Aged 16, he is Elliot’s brother and assistant. He is addicted to the butterflies which have resulted in him having memory loss.

Naz - A young looking 15-year-old orphan who is a regular customer of Elliot's. He like many of the other characters has severe memory loss through butterfly addiction. He happens across the party by accident and wants to help the gang, much to the dismay of Elliot.

Party Piece - A ten-year-old Pakistani boy. He is the victim prepared for the Party Guest.

Lola - A 19-year-old transvestite man. He is skilled in designing costumes and make-up which he makes for the parties. He is in a romantic relationship with Elliot.

Papa Spinx - 21 years old, he is the Leader of the gang and Lola's brother. He looks after the Duchess who it is suggested he has an intimate relationship with. The rest of the gang are mostly fearful of him.

Duchess - A frail and blind 38-year-old woman. She gets her name from having been led to think that she is a duchess of a country, which she believes due to not being able to see. She has also mixed up her life history with the character of Maria from The Sound of Music. It is heavily suggested that she may have a closer connection to Elliot and Darren than it appears.

Party Guest - 23 years old. The party revolves around his fantasy where he is a soldier in the Vietnam War who, for his own sexual gratification, tortures with a meat hook a child Pakistani version of Elvis Presley, singing Love Me Tender in a gold two-piece suit.

Response and Legacy[edit]

Initial Reception and Controversy

The play became a huge cause célèbre when it premiered, with at least 10 walkouts reported each performance of the show's original run, and even Ridley's publishers of ten years, Faber and Faber, refusing to publish the text.[9]

Critical response was almost as fevered as the events on stage with Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph[10] describing the play as "a poisonous piece" as well as declaring that everyone concerned with the production had been "degraded" and, more controversially, that Ridley was "turned on by his own sick fantasies."

However, there was also critical support for the play, with John Peter[11] 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."

Accordingly, the play set critics at odds with each other, with Guardian front liner Michael Billington insisting that the portrayed "social breakdown ... flies in the face of a mass of evidence one could produce to the contrary", whilst Lyn Gardner[12] and Miranda Sawyer[13] joined the ranks of those siding with the lyricism of the piece.

In defending the production, director John Tiffany explained that although the play is full of "incredibly shocking images and stories, almost all the violence happens off stage. It is almost Greek in its ambition" and that the play is "the product of a diseased world, not a diseased mind".

Responding to the controversy Ridley defended the play, describing what he felt were double standards within the theatrical establishment, in that it is acceptable for there to be scenes of violence in classical drama but not within contemporary plays:

"Why is it that it is fine for the classic plays to discuss - even show - these things, but people are outraged when contemporary playwrights do it? If you go to see King Lear, you see a man having his eyes pulled out; in Medea, a woman slaughters her own children. The recent revival of Iphigenia at the National was acclaimed for its relevance. But when you try to write about the world around us, people get upset. If I'd wrapped Mercury Fur up as a recently rediscovered Greek tragedy it would be seen as an interesting moral debate like Iphigenia, but because it is set on an east-London housing estate it is seen as being too dangerous to talk about. What does that say about the world we live in? What does it say about theatre today?"[14]

Ridley also explained that he felt critics had disliked Mercury Fur because of its subject matter and not for the theatrical experience the play is trying to create for its audience:

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with people being disturbed within the theatre at all… I think theatre is fifteen years behind any other art form... It’s still perceived as a kind of subject matter based art form. You wouldn’t go along and look at a Suzanne painting and criticize it just on the choice of apples she’s chosen to paint, you’d criticize it, and you’d judge it and experience it for the use of paint… Because we come from a basic literal tradition we still view stage plays as kind of glorified novels and we judge them purely on their subject matter, regardless of the theatrical experience of sitting there and watching the play.[15]

Ridley also defended the depiction of violence within the story, arguing that is used for a moral purpose and that the play is more about love than violence:

"The things that happen in Mercury Fur are not gratuitous, they are heart-breaking. The people may do terrible things but everything they do is out of love, in an attempt to keep each other safe. The play is me asking, 'What would I do in that position?' If you knew that to keep your mother, brother and lover safe, you would have to do terrible things, would you still do them? That's the dilemma of the play. It asks us all, 'What lengths would you go to to save the people you love?'"[16]

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 keen to retell its story and audiences curious to see the story being told.

On seeing the original production dramaturg and theatre director Lisa Goldman described the play as “one of the greatest theatre experiences of my life” which led to her commissioning and directing Ridley’s next two plays Leaves of Glass and Piranha Heights.[17]

2010 Police Incident

In 2010 police almost raided Theatre Delicatessen's production of the play (which was staged in a derelict office block) when a resident living next door believed the play's violent scenes were being carried out for real. Actors waiting offstage along with the company's producer intervened before the police would have stopped the performance.[18]

Behind the Eyes[19]

In February 2011 the play was used by the Schema Arts Collective as the basis for a community arts project called Behind the Eyes, which took place at the Sassoon Gallery, London.

The project featured an amateur production of Mercury Fur which was cut down to 40 minutes and utilise actors from the local area. The performance was particular in its use of sound design with edited sound recordings of the actors and gallery environment incorporated into the production.

The project also featured a thirty minute documentary film Mercury Fur Unveiled about the cast and creative team’s process of realising the project and their views on the play. The documentary was later broadcast on the Community Channel in 2013[20] and is free to watch on YouTube.

Ridley himself collaborated in the project and exhibited a series of photographic portraits he created of the cast.

Critical Reappraisal

In 2012 the play was arguably critically reassessed when revived by The Greenhouse Theatre Company, with the production receiving extremely positive reviews and even marketed as “Ridley’s Masterpiece”:[21] a statement which was also made by critic Aleks Sierz[22] and A Younger Theatre reviewer Jack Orr.[23] The play also drew attention for its relevance in the aftermath of the 2011 England Riots[24] with the production’s online trailer using dialogue from the play over footage from the riots.[25]

New Monologues

For the 2012 production Ridley wrote four individual new monologues for the characters Elliot, Naz, Lola and Darren which were filmed and put on The Greenhouse Theatre Company’s YouTube channel to promote the play transferring to the West End.[26]


Plays that critics believe have been influenced by or bear homage to Mercury Fur include:


Mercury Fur has been performed worldwide in countries such as Australia, France, Italy, Malta, Turkey, the Czech Republic, the United States and Japan.

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,[31] 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,[32] Los Angeles Need Theatre;[33] 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.[34] 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
England 2012 The Old Red Lion Theatre, London Directed by Ned Bennet; Cast included Olly Alexander, Frank C Keogh, Ben Dilloway, Henry Lewis, James Fynan, Ciarán Owens and Ronak Raj.[35][36] 27 March - 14 April, The second major London revival. Winner of 'Best Set Design' for James Turner[37] and nominated for 'Best Production' at the 2013 Off-West End Awards.[38]
USA (NY) 2012 Atlantic Stage 2 Theater, New York City Blue Ass Monkey Theater Company Produced for a limited run in December 2012
Canada 2014 Unit 102 Theatre, Toronto Seven Siblings Theatre Company. Canadian Premiere Produced in August 2014
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. Opened November 13, 2014
Japan 2015 Theatre Tram in Tokyo, Hyogo Performing Arts Center in Hyogo and Canal City theater in Fukuoka Directed by Akira Shirai. Starring Issei Takahashi as Elliot and Koji Seto as Darren. Produced as Japan Tour in February–March, 2015
USA (Philadelphia) 2015 BrainSpunk Theater, Philadelphia Philadelphia Premiere, Directed by Josh Hitchens. Starring Joshua McLucas as Elliot and Samuel Fineman as Darren. Produced July - August 2015
USA (NY) 2015 The New Group,[39] New York City Off-Broadway Premiere, Directed by Scott Elliott starring Jack DiFalco as "Darren," Tony Revolori as "Naz," and Zane Pais as "Elliot"[40] Opened 5 August, 2015

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Charles Spencer Review
  2. ^ This Other England
  3. ^ London Theatre Guide
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Philip Ridley (2009). Philip Ridley plays 2. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. ISBN 1472517369. Page 73
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Charles Spencer Review
  11. ^ Sunday Times Review
  12. ^ Lyn Gardner Article
  13. ^ Miranda Sawyer at the Observer
  14. ^ Lyn Gardner Article
  15. ^
  16. ^ Lyn Gardner Article
  17. ^ Lisa Goldman (2012). The No Rules Handbook for Writers: (know the rules so you can break them). Oberon books. ISBN 1849433011, 9781849433013. Page 185
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^>
  26. ^
  27. ^ Philip Ridley (2015). The Pitchfork Disney.Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 1472508041, 9781472508041. Page 20.
  28. ^ Dan Rebellato (2011). The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary British Playwrights. Methuen Drama. ISBN 9781408122785. Page 441.
  29. ^ Philip Ridley (2015). The Pitchfork Disney.Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 1472508041, 9781472508041. Page 20.
  30. ^ Philip Ridley (2015). The Pitchfork Disney.Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 1472508041, 9781472508041. Page 20.
  31. ^ Rude Guerilla's Mercury Fur page
  32. ^ The Imagined Life Theater listing
  33. ^ Need Theater production
  34. ^ Theatre Delicatessen's Mercury Fur page
  35. ^ [1]
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^

External links[edit]