sat 20/07/2024

Bug, Found111 | reviews, news & interviews

Bug, Found111

Bug, Found111

James Norton and Kate Fleetwood share delusions in this intimate Tracy Letts revival

Bitten by the same bug: Agnes (Kate Fleetwood) comforts Peter (James Norton)Simon Annand

My skin is still tingling with the presence of imaginary critters. Never mind I’m A Celebrity… or Bear Grylls’s latest expedition – Tracy Letts has got them beat when it comes to nightmarish creepy-crawlies. But it’s not just a creature feature: this starry 20th anniversary revival at London’s newest pop-up theatre offers an eerie mirror to contemporary paranoia.

Cocktail waitress Agnes (Kate Fleetwood) is holed up in a squalid Oklahoma City motel, tormented by calls from abusive ex Jerry (Alec Newman), recently released from prison. When RC (Daisy Lewis), who works with her at a local honky-tonk, brings over a stray puppy – the diffident, softly spoken Peter (James Norton, pictured below) – mutual suspicion melts into sweetly cautious romance. But Peter’s deluded obsession with blood-sucking aphids gradually emerges, and it’s not long before Agnes falls under his spell.

Bug, Found111Letts ladles on the foreboding. “I pick up on things, things not apparent,” states Peter minutes after his introduction, while references to Ted Bundy and Reverend Jim Jones heavily signpost the coming horrors. But Simon Evans’s measured production notches up the tension, with an assist from Edward Lewis’s superb sound design. The chirp of a cricket migrates, tauntingly, before morphing into a smoke alarm; insects scuttle and seethe; passing cars anchor and displace us; a helicopter builds to a deafening roar. Evans also offsets Letts’s Gothic excess with wry wit, so even a graphic, gruesomely prolonged, nigh-unwatchable dentistry sequence (move over, Cleansed) is played with queasy comic absurdity.

The point here is that the duo’s response is wildly unreasonable, but the basis for their fears might not be. “You’re never really safe. One time, maybe a long time ago, people were safe, but that’s all over,” says Gulf War veteran Peter, and – if not to a Trump extent – who hasn’t entertained such a thought during the current news cycle? Concerns about computerised control, government surveillance and relentless infiltration by the outside world (“bug” carries several meanings) are also more valid in the post-Snowden era.

But their behaviour is coloured by other forces – drink and drugs, trauma, isolation, mental instability. Agnes has a missing child, and Peter’s conspiracy theories quench her desperate need for answers, while his presence assauges her loneliness. The magnetic Fleetwood (pictured below with Norton) adds a budding maternal dimension to bruised and brittle Agnes, climaxing in an extraordinary monologue that’s simultaneously triumphant twisted logic and gut-wrenching wail of grief. 

Bug, Found111The nation’s favourite hunk/psycho is a worthy scene-partner and smart casting as schizophrenic Peter, all childlike hopefulness and obliging chivalry – the antithesis of Newman’s nasty, overbearing Jerry – before he edges into disturbing mania. He scratches, slaps and tears at his flesh, producing (impressively realistic) weeping red sores by trying to dispel the enemy within, but there’s also deliberate focus: Norton handles a microscope with exquisite care. Lewis and Fleetwood have a convincing shorthand as the close friends, and Carl Prekopp maintains crucial inscrutability in his late appearance.

Ben Stones’s appropriately seedy motel room is memorably bathed in blue light by Richard Howell – matching the bug zappers which join an array of sprays and fly paper, and supplying a spooky sci-fi sheen. But though Found111 offers effective intimacy, its cramped environs and tricky sightlines are frustrating distractions. That contributes to the dilution of immersive experience which accompanies Letts’s dubious abandoment of skin-crawling thriller for lurid, all-out carnage. Riveting central performances, but squeamish viewers may be itching for a can of Repel.


Concerns about Government surveillance are more valid in the post-Snowden era


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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