Found 111 Theatre
30th March 2016
Found 111 is an extraordinary theatre; a performance space brimming with potential, located at the top of a chic-grimy, bohemian warehouse on the Charing Cross Road. Simon Evans’ new production of Tracey Letts’ Bug is a perfect fit, utilising the fringe theatre aesthetic to gloriously claustrophobic effect. Coupled with a fascinating script and performances by two actors at the height of their powers, Bug makes for a spectacular theatrical experience.
The play opens with down and out Agnes (Kate Fleetwood) and her friend RC (Daisy Lewis) smoking crack in Agnes’s seedy motel room. Suddenly their ‘party’ is disturbed by Peter (James Norton), a guest of RC’s who introduces himself with the unpromising line, “I am not an axe murderer”. He isn’t, though he acknowledges that he has a tendency to make people uncomfortable. In fact, Agnes warms to Peter’s honest demeanour and good heart; the antithesis of her ex-husband Jerry (Alec Newman). Peter is well spoken, thoughtful, and intuitive, and the pair soon find themselves in bed together. When they wake, Peter feels bugs crawling over his skin, catalysing a folie a deux that threatens to consume them both.
This is not a play for the squeamish. Bug is raw, bloody, and torturously intimate. The set weaves around the audience, many of whom find themselves inches away from the actors. Most significantly, even as sanity rots away with every desperate swipe at an imaginary insect, Agnes and Peter are empathetic figures. Their odd, but tender courtship is a balm in their calloused and barren lives, and like many of us, they crave clarity of purpose. The tragedy of Bug is that their hopeful ending is always just beyond reach, thwarted by the persistence of putrid, remorseless memories, which manifest as self-destructive behaviours.
Kate Fleetwood delivers a masterful performance, a profound demonstration of past tragedies tethering themselves to a person’s character. Her shy, but composed demeanour with Peter is juxtaposed with the nervously combative stance she takes with Jerry, which is worn down by his targeted aggression. We see a figure profoundly affected by a sense of loss, so desperate to keep this new, good thing with Peter that she becomes a slave to his every wild theory. As she clutches at their frantic logic, it is as if Agnes is fighting for her life, and Fleetwood powerfully depicts the decay of her vibrant and witty personality.
Peter is a complex proposition for any actor, as there is the potential for much unwitting ham. James Norton’s performance is supremely physical, but very natural, as Peter’s mania is qualified by his compelling introductory scenes. Here, Norton beautifully captures the essence of a man terrified of hurting others, yet desperate for human warmth. His obsession is something he doesn’t like to talk about, as it “freaks people out”, but speaking of it becomes a compulsion – the development of which is tremendous to behold. Peter is crippled by each indulgence, and Norton’s layered performance cleverly counterbalances his increasingly erratic behaviour with the degeneration of his body.
Fleetwood and Norton are complimented by excellent supporting performers. Alec Newman is a suitably manipulative Jerry, charismatic but spiteful, a hardened sociopath. Daisy Lewis’s RC provides great warmth in her scenes with Agnes, and an outsider’s perspective on the madness that unfolds, whilst Carl Prekopp is an intriguing, enigmatic Dr. Sweet. Nevertheless, the production’s greatest support comes from the brilliantly conceived sound, lighting and set design. The transformation of Agnes’s soulless hotel room into a hellish asylum, all bright lights and tin foil, is just one emblem of madness. Darkness descends to the sound of eerie music; we hear hosts of insects scuttle and cry with alarming effect, and in one memorable scene, our perception of events is challenged by the sudden opening of the motel room door. In turn, the actors do a tremendous job of accommodating the surrounding audience, occupying the set like animals pacing around a cage. This enables everyone to get a good view of the action, whilst enhancing the atmosphere of fear and despair.
Simon Evans’ production of Bug is a visceral and immersive piece, which lives up to Tracey Letts’ excellent script. Kate Fleetwood and James Norton deliver deeply moving performances, complimented by a strong supporting cast and sublime set, lighting and sound design. It is a brilliantly judged piece, which will set your pulse racing, and linger long in the memory.