Found 111, London
Tracy Letts’ Bug at the Found111 space is a pressure cooker of paranoid chaos, as fascinating as it is terrifying. It draws a thin line between reality and neurosis, trapping the audience in a claustrophobic motel room, which represents both a cosy haven and a nausea inducing prison. The nature of fear, reality and human companionship are all held literally under the microscope in a breathlessly disquieting evening.
We find Kate Fleetwood’s damaged Agnes, perched in the doorframe of her room, a squalid sordid little shrine to loneliness (expertly dressed by designer Ben Stones). After her friend RC (Daisy Lewis) introduces Agnes to Peter (James Norton), she becomes swept up in a world of paranoia, infestation and real danger, as she tries to come to terms with the loss of her son and her need for human connection.
It’s a powerful piece of writing, driven with tight pacing. Letts tenderly leads us along the path of intrigue, building the suspense delicately until the pot boils over in the second act and Peter’s ravaged ‘hive’ mind is unleashed. Characters are at once broken and totally complete in their convictions, never truly allowing us to be certain of their intentions or indeed their validity. We feel Peter’s fears and can empathise with his concerns about unseen foes. “We’re never truly safe”, he says, wounded eyes etched with sincerity. It’s a statement that an audience of 2016, assaulted daily with terror attacks and body counts, can all too easily identify with.
Letts’ characters are fantastically well drawn, but equally well skilled are the performances that give them life. Fleetwood’s Agnes is a desperately tragic figure, in need of rescue but latching on to the wrong life raft. Fleetwood taps into the isolation and fragile terror that haunt Agnes and the guilt she feels having lost her son. Her strangled cries towards the end of the play, as she unravels the conspiracies of Peter’s mind betray a woman drowning in maternal guilt.
Norton is sweetly sympathetic as Peter, expertly flitting between deluded kook and perceptive fundamentalist. He brings a child-like innocence to the role, stripping him of his more obvious physical sexual appeal and legitimising Agnes’ obsession with protecting him as the play unfolds.
There’s also strong work from the supporting cast, particularly Alec Newman as Agnes’s abusive ex-husband. There is a real menace to his limited stage time, as he pulses with the constant possibility of violence.
Director Simon Evans understands the environment of Found111 and willingly embraces the claustrophobia of the space. Brutally minimal staging draws the audience into the action, placing us in the motel room, fidgeting in our seats, wondering if the titular bugs are crawling around our feet. Lighting Designer Richard Howell and Sound Designer Edward Lewis combine to brilliant effect to create the disconnect between the calm banality of the outside world and the fevered panic of the Agnes and Peter’s existence. Lewis’ mechanical soundscapes feature noises that are reassuringly familiar: a car passing, an AC unit kicking in. However, in their incessant repetition throughout the piece they take on the menace and foreboding that inform Peter’s technophobia.
Evans mentions in his programme notes that he ‘all-but threw’ Bug at Emily Dobbs when discussing his next play at Found111 and it’s not hard to understand his enthusiasm to see it staged. It’s a thrilling piece with universal themes that strike relevant chords for a modern audience and here is performed with real panache by a top-notch cast. You’d be as foolish as a fruit fly to miss it.
Runs until 7th MayReviewed by: Will ClarksonPhoto credit: Simon Annand