Bug at Found 111
Inside the unassuming exterior of Found 111 (a pop-up fringe venue associated with the Soho Theatre) is a sparse, grey room with a modest double bed, a bathroom cubicle and a small table where the drinks are stored. This little island of anonymous, unglamorous Americana represents the dingy motel from which Bug takes place – surrounded on all four sides by the audience. The intimacy of this setting is one of the key strengths of director Simon Evans’ envisioning of Tracy Letts’ dark drama, ensuring a voyeuristic charge in observing the fearless and vulnerable performances of the actors.
Set in Oklahoma, Bug follows Agnes White (Kate Fleetwood), an ageing cocktail waitress, holed up in her motel to escape from her abusive ex-husband, Goss (Alec Newman); her only friend is lesbian biker RC (Daisy Lewis), with whom she drinks and smokes crack to kill away all the lazy Oklahoma hours. That is until RC brings Peter Evans (James Norton) into her life. His gentle and sexually non-threatening demeanour wins over Agnes, despite her reservations, which he promptly justifies. His mysterious military past is one thing, but it his obsession with the aphids he believes are eating away at his flesh starts to mold and take over all of Agnes’ insular existence, and delusion and paranoia become natural bedfellows.
The play succeeds in sinking the audience into the living conditions of such poverty and isolation, with all its manic desperation and instability stemming from regular drug abuse. Letts’ dialogue is knife-sharp but not ostentatious, particularly in the first act when where Agnes and Peter’s relationship is set up, aided by the actors’ excellent chemistry. Whilst Newman is superbly repellent in his scenes as Goss and Norton is charged with the show-stopping moments of mental and physical breakdown, Fleetwood is undoubtedly the heart of the play. One can sense in her body language the emotional battle-scars that she has endured as the victim of far too many sociopathic male companions, and, despite her vulpine features, she also radiates a streak of maternal warmth towards to her younger but equally damaged companion.
Bug is a strange play for sure. There are oblique references to Iraq and conspiracy theories that were presumably aimed at giving the play greater scope, but it’s difficult to really decipher if anything of significance is being communicated. The pacing is not consistent; the well-tended slow burn of tension is dislodged somewhat in the second half when the plays rushes along into full-blown body horror, tripping over its feet as it does so. It’s riveting to see Norton prise out a molar with some pliers, but it also means the next 20 minutes of hysterical monologues have an impossible act to follow. Bug makes for an imperfect but memorable experience.
Bug is on at Found 111 from 24th March until 7th May 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch interviews with the actors here: