Monday, 4 April 2016

Theatre review: Bug

If temporary theatre Found 111 have a USP (other than always seeming to leave some sort of booby-trap for the audience to trip over when they cross the tiny stage - last time it was books, this time it's dirty dishes,) it seems to be casting actors who've long been known to theatregoers, but have in recent years got a whole new audience from high-profile TV work. So after Andrew Scott in The Dazzle, another guaranteed sell-out as James Norton returns to the stage for Tracy Letts' Bug. He joins Kate Fleetwood who plays Agnes, a crack addict whose young son disappeared several years ago, and now lives in an Oklahoma motel room. She's more jittery than usual today as she's heard her abusive ex-husband Jerry (Alec Newman) has been released from prison early, and she expects him to turn up any minute. But first her friend (Daisy Lewis) brings another addict round to share her crack pipe.

Peter (Norton) is affable and surprisingly laid-back, and as well as being attracted to him Agnes is keen to have some company, especially from someone who might be able to help her when Jerry turns up.

"It's nice that this play is written by a woman."

The two do pair up, but what initially seems like a sweet if damaged couple turns out to be a disastrous relationship. Bug features a lot of very funny black comedy, but an early gag that introduces us to Peter - he's too health-conscious to snort drugs but he'll smoke them because the "bad stuff" gets burned out - turns out to have a darker significance. After he gets bitten by a bug in the middle of the night he searches the bed for any other insects that might be there, and starts seeing them everywhere; before long, Agnes can see them too.

"It isn't. Tracy can be a man's name."

Ben Stones' design has added another seating bank to make the attic room an in-the-round stage; it makes for an even more claustrophobic setting for a story of mounting paranoia, although I'm not sure how well people sitting behind the bed would have seen (and as before, some seats will have a pillar between them and the action so, once again, getting there early for a half-decent view is probably a good idea.) The first act works well but did leave me wondering what point Letts was trying to make. As the second veers in an even darker direction it becomes apparent this is a study in paranoia and conspiracy theories, with a pretty gruesome edge - I did wonder if an interval in a fairly short play was going to be gratuitous but, without giving too much away, Norton did require a certain amount of makeup to be applied before the second act. There's also a moment of dental horror that seems likely to be one of the things the show is remembered for - one thing about the in-the-round staging is you get to see exactly how other audience members react to that.

"Tracy is a man's name? Everything I thought I knew is wrong!"

There are some issues with Letts' story that are problematic: I get that Agnes' backstory about her missing son is meant to leave her vulnerable to paranoia, but it seems a pretty huge plot point to use in this way and then leave unresolved. Similarly, Jerry himself is more or less a red herring, and despite there being five characters this might as well be a two-hander. But Simon Evans' production is intense enough to help gloss over some of the play's issues, if not quite overcome them entirely. And certainly Fleetwood and Norton's chemistry is the show's real selling point: Their performances were so intense by the play's climax that I managed to forget that Carl Prekopp's Dr Sweet was lying on my foot at the time (so apologies if I kicked him.)

Bug by Tracy Letts is booking until the 7th of May at Found 111 (returns only.)

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Simon Annand.

No comments:

Post a Comment