Mercury Fur and Tender Napalm – Philip Ridley

February 21, 2014 - ROH Blog

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I’m really excited to be discovering Philip Ridley.  So far I’ve read two plays by him: Mercury Fur, from 2005, which was produced by Paines Plough and Drum Theatre Plymouth; and Tender Napalm from 2011, which was produced by Supporting Wall at Southwark Playhouse.

These are both brutal, uncompromising plays, but in quite different ways.  Mercury Fur provoked an outrage for its violence and vision of peri-apocolyptic dystopia.  Not least because violence is pleasure, and business.  But it also has tender moments, and actually, IMHO, shows a very progressive vision of a future society where sexuality and gender and fluid celebrations of humanity.  It anti-heteronormative, and I’m all for that.  I guess it also portrays teen sexuality as something positive but vulnerable, and it has a non-normative approach to family structures too.   The conflation of drugs and butterflies (in all colours and types) has a touch of the South American realist fantasy about it.

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Apocalyptic fantasy in Mercury Fur

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Teen sexuality in Mercury Fur

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Fluid gender and sexuality in Mercury Fur

Tender Napalm has more than a touch of realist fantasy about it.  In fact it totally blurs the lines between the real relationship between the couple and their fantasy world.  There are some times when the transition from fantasy to reality is rather gentle and unnoticeable, and other jump cuts which are absolutely brutal in their juxtaposition of something magical with something horrific and very real.  The fantasy stories are often completely brutal and violent too, torturing each other, trying to murder in their fantasies, at the same time as displaying a mutual respect for each other.  They generally go along with each other’s fantasy, supporting, embellishing, developing… indicating some deep mutual respect and willingness to engage, even if they are talking about torturing each other.  Themes that crop up are family, growing up, relationships, love, long-term relationships, parents, etc.  Simultaneously brutal and very touching and tender. I guess that’s what the title is all about – plus the many fantasies that mimic war.

It’s also striking because it is all in one single scene, with two actors, no other characters, and no setting, location or time is given in the text.  There are amazing long monologues stretching for pages, but also a great fight sequence near the end which is a long sequence of hocketed words between them. Ridley is excellent at keeping contrast in a limited setting by his use of pacing and, as I mentioned, transitioning between different stories.

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Hocketing mono-syllabic words in Tender Napalm

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Jump cut from war fantasies to parental reality in Tender Napalm