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Thursday 28 March 2013

STC’S ‘LITTLE MERCY’ dissected by me

Ever wondered what a pantomime done in the style of gothic horror might look like? ‘Little Mercy’ is your answer. Written by Sisters Grimm (Ash Flanders, who also stars in the show and Declan Greene, also its director), ‘Little Mercy’ is their latest project in what they best describe as “gay DIY drag-theatre”. It’s a darkly comic piece that has clearly been written with the express purpose of having fun and exploiting expectations and they have succeeded on both levels.

Ash Flanders is terrific in this show. His role as Virginia is played with what I call drag-integrity. Consider this, he’s a man playing a woman and although we all know this, Flanders plays Virginia as a woman might be expected to behave in this 50’s gothic throwback genre. Yet, we are still let in on the joke and we even allow the convention to be flaunted in front of us and love the double dance that takes place. Confused? I might have just confused myself too. What I’m saying is that Flanders plays Virginia as such a likeable naïve privileged housewife and even though nothing on stage can be considered real, we believe her reactions are completely appropriate. She is the most real thing on stage and we love it, because ‘she’ is not real at all.

Flanders is supported by Luke Mullins as husband and later as malicious nanny (in drag) and once again, there is delicious delight in allowing Mullins to use one character to promote another and both of these characters exploit Virginia’s good-will to drag her further into the madness of the play’s sadistic quagmire. Mullins does a great job in fulfilling the play’s intent and creating obstacles for our protagonist. His nuance and physicality are lovely to watch.

Jill McKay as adopted daughter/demon was another great touch in throwing casting conventions on its head and I loved the clever use of stage crew (Roxzan Bowes), musician/composer (Steve Toulmin) and the use of space was another smart touch. Designer David Fleischer and lighting/ AV designer Verity Hampson took the Wharf 2 space, every square inch of it and revealed to us, piece by piece, all the ways in which space can help tell a story, even from the steps of the audience seating. The hidden script sprawled on walls, the illuminated scrim of curtains, what can be hung or hidden, transformed or transfixed, the design added enormously to the style of this show.

There are a few gaps in timing and a couple of times I found myself drifting off in the middle of this show but its spectacle and lead performance will keep you thoroughly entertained. And it’s good to know that men kissing each other on stage doesn’t raise an eyebrow anymore, although we still squeal if they kiss the old lady. We’re a funny bunch, yes?

If you have stopped going to the STC because you’ve been profoundly disappointed with what’s on offer- and I completely understand why you might have; please consult the almost entirety of posts on STC productions from 2011 and 2012 for further information- what I’ve seen this year has been a pleasant surprise. I think they’ve started to factor their audience back into the mix by offering a range of styles, writing, performing and staging and it might be worthwhile considering a return to their (granted, very expensive) theatre.

STC are trying to put fun and innovation back into the mix and ‘Little Mercy’ is a great example of this. It allows the audience to enter the world of the play and enjoy the joke of its illusions and knows what to reveal and when. I defy you not to find something fun about watching this show. 

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