I went to the Trafalgar Studios 2 towards the end of Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur’s latest production.
The Greenhouse Theatre Company are responsible for causing a huge stir on the theatre scene for their revival of Mercury Fur which was first put on at The Menier Chocolate factory in 2005.
I chatted to Artistic director and ‘party-guest’ Henry Lewis and director Ned Bennett before the show to find out a little more about them.
Why did you set Greenhouse Theatre Company up?
H. I think after leaving drama school a lot of people advice you to create your own work and we thought the best way to do that was to start our own company and to find a play to do. Myself and Joel (who also set Greenhouse Company up) graduated from Lamda last year and Ned did too.
What came first, the play or the actors?
H. We chose the Play first and then the cast second
Why Mercury Fur?
H. Well we wanted to do a play that was fairly bold and eye catching and it’s certainly that, we wanted a play that had strong parts for younger actors and also there’s the fact that it’s relevant because of the post riot situation.
How did you come on board as director of this production?
N. I‘d been at drama with Joel and Henry who sent me the play. I read it and absolutely loved it. I was immediately drawn to it.
How much input did Philip Ridley have with the production?
H. He was pretty involved right from the get go. He was keen to meet with us and talk about it, I think he’s keen to be involved on all of his productions. Then as it went on he got more and more involved: he came to the read through, to some rehearsals and then for this run and the previous run he did some post show events for us – reading of his poetry and he took the photograph for the publicity image, he gave us bits of new writing , some of it is in the form of pre show monologues – with we used to promote the show you-tube and then there was another piece from something new he’s developing that we used again for the post show event that Katy Scarfe (‘The Dutchess’) performed yesterday.
Philip Ridley has said it’s one of the best versions of this production – how does that make you feel?
N. I think we’ve found the perfect balance. Philip’s let us take ownership of the work but equally he gives us so much guidance as well. When we were casting and looking for the right actors, we had lots of conversations with him about who the characters are and really useful background knowledge.
How did the transfer to Trafalgar studios come about?
N. We originally produced the play at The Old Red Lion Theatre in Angel in March-April of this year and the London Programmer of The Ambassador Theatre Group saw it, liked it and we worked out the transfer from there.
What’s the Greenhouse theatre companies USP?
H. We don’t really have a particular niche or type of theatre we want to exclusively stick to, in fact we’re keen to explore lots of different genres and writers and look at devised work, but we do want to strive make sure that everything we do is of an excellent standard and a lot of that comes down to finding the right piece and the right people.
Why do you think Mercury Fur has been so much more positively received in 2012?
H. I think it come back at quite a relevant time, I think with last summer’s riots still in fairly recent memory and with bankers becoming more evil by the day its a good time to do the piece. I think the difference between the critical response now and when it first ran in 2005 says a lot about how quickly and constantly the zeitgeist can change.
Will Greenhouse consider producing / performing work by new playwrights down the line?
H. Absolutely, we’re keen to find exciting new scripts as well already existing ones.
What advice would you give a group who are also looking to set up their own company?
H. I reckon a lot of it comes down to determination. If you want to set something up nothing will help you more than keeping self-motivated, driven and focused. Its not easy creating your own work, especially when it comes to things like money, finding venues, contracts and so on, but fundamentally a teams commitment and collaborative spirit will be the making of any project.
Can you feel the audience reacting during the performance?
H. Yes, the audience’s reactions are certainly very noticeable during Mercury Fur! Even to other audience members, as the space on three sides. My favourite audince reaction was when my character (Party Guest) gets shot and one person on their own started loudly applauding before realising they were on their own and quickly stopping!
Do you agree that there is a lot of homoeroticism in the play by various characters – do you think that’s deliberate – what do you think Philip Ridley chose to do this?
H. There is certainly homoeroticism in the play, between Elliot and Lola, between Darren and Naz, I even think in the first published version of the text Spinx and Elliot kissed, although I don’t know if that was ever performed? I don’t think its there for any reason other than that the people in the play love each other and I think that in this version of our future its probably true to say that perhaps the line between romantic and platonic love is more blurred than the clearer line we know in our world.
What productions have you seen and liked so far this year?
H. I really loved Philip’s other play Shivered at the Southwark Playhouse, very relevant and well acted.
What have you enjoyed most about this run?
H. For me, the opportunity to return to a role after having performed it and then getting to go back into the rehearsal room and explore it further was fantastic.
What’s next for Greenhouse?
H. I’m not 100% sure yet, there’s lots of possibilities, but I think another play in London is definitely on the cards before the end of the year!
Interviewer: Gemma Rogers