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Bug

Published March 30, 2016

What’s it all about?

If you’ve ever spent a night or two camping, you might recall those niggling suspicions about the inhabitants of the earth directly beneath you. You can itch, you can twitch, you can scratch, but the thought remains: sleep tight, and don’t let the bed bugs bite. 

Bug is about those often irrational but irritatingly omnipresent small fears we just can’t suppress. Those ideas can percolate beneath the surface, boil over and, in extreme cases like the uneasy but charming Peter, take control. Lodging at the dilapidated motel room of beaten, booze-and-crack-ridden runaway Agnes, he recognises her to be gripped by her own fear, that of eternal loneliness, and their comforting but disturbingly symbiotic relationship is born.

There’s the fear of their respective demons at the door – his mysterious past tormentors, and her recently released violent husband, returning for them, and there’s the fear of what lies beyond, out there in the world. Rapidly growing paranoia provides a terrifyingly claustrophobic reality for Peter and Agnes, proving itself the creepiest crawly of them all.

Who’s in it?

A return to the London stage for James Norton, whose absolute commitment to Peter’s misplaced conviction is gripping. At first a platonic, calm and reassuring presence, his spiralling fixation with the mental “bugs” he just can’t ignore is compelling, discomforting and gruesome viewing, particularly when pliers and loose teeth are involved.

Norton’s excellence is echoed by Kate Fleetwood as Agnes. Her gaunt, uninhibited portrayal of a fundamentally broken woman tethers events in the room back to a dwindling reality. Fleetwood is wide-eyed, distorted and utterly superb throughout.

What should I look out for?

The punchy back-and-forth energy of Tracy Letts’ frenetic writing that positively fizzes off the page, particularly between the initially mistrustful pair. Theirs is a romance easy to root for, but always set on the path towards self-destruction, and Norton and Fleetwood combine to form a gritty, unrestrained and blistering concoction of desperation and solace.

The claustrophobic brilliance of Director Simon Evans’ staging and Ben Stones’ fiendishly intricate and inventive design. The proximity of the audience to the action demands creative precision and decorative detail, and Bug’s seedy motel room possesses these properties in abundance, encasing you in the internal hell in which Peter and Agnes wallow. It’s all the more a disturbing experience for it.

In a nutshell?

A mesmerising pair of performances from Norton and Fleetwood burrow under your skin in this intimately gruesome, exhilarating and engrossing paranoia thriller.

Who was in the press night crowd?

The stars of recent Found111 hit The Dazzle were back at the venue to support Director Simon Evans’ latest venture there, with Official London Theatre seated opposite talented duo Joanna Vanderham and Sherlock and Spectre star Andrew Scott. 

What’s being said on Twitter?

Will I like it?

Bug is a play that, fittingly, creeps under your flesh, sinks its narrative pincers in, and refuses to let go. It’s every bit as intense and gripping as it sounds, thanks in no small part to inspired performances from across the cast, particularly Norton and Fleetwood’s warped central pairing. Making outstanding use of a unique space, Bug is a skilfully sustained, frantic and visceral theatrical treat.

Bug is playing at Found111 until 7 May. You can book tickets through the Soho Theatre website.

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