★★★★★ | Bug

In a run down motel room in Oklahoma City, cocktail waitress Agnes is killing time, hitting the bottle and smoking a little crack with her lesbian friend R.C. Hiding from her violent ex and trying to numb the pain of her past; the evening takes a sudden unexpected turn when a stranger arrives.

CREDIT: Simon Annand

Found 111 is an intimate new theatre space on Charing Cross Road that perfectly suits Tracy Letts’ gripping and claustrophobic 1996 play. The audience are all around the four sides of the tiny motel room and the actors are within touching distance. The airless heat of the room built up as the tension ramped higher and it becomes appropriately oppressive. By Act Two the audience itches and scratches and bristles with tension as the characters descend into a deranged scenario. Theatre doesn’t often feel as real as this. The play is gruesome, disturbing but darkly comical which is what you’d expect from Letts; the author of hit films Killer Joe and August: Osage County.

There was a major distraction for me in Bug in the form of the handsome James Norton (Happy Valley, War and Peace, Grantchester) who was playing the stranger. He was so close to me at points, stripped down to a pair of baggy boxer shorts and displaying an admirable torso, that I almost had to sit on my hands before a restraining order was issued. My lustiness aside: Norton is a very fine actor. It’s a testament to his skills that in spite of his ubiquitous presence on our televisions, he subsumes the character with ease and his familiar face doesn’t make the viewer think of his other roles. He portrays a brooding ex-soldier with a polite gentlemanly manner and a burgeoning psychosis. He doesn’t miss a beat and unfailingly does justice to this tightly scripted piece.

 

CREDIT: Simon Annand

Equally superb is his co-star Kate Fleetwood (Medea, High Society, London Road). She’s all spiky edges and nervous tics as she prowls the room in hot pants and heels, toking on cigarettes and swigging wine. Any actor or actress who can draw my attention to their face whilst James Norton is on stage wearing very little, has to be a skilled practitioner indeed. Fleetwood is hypnotic and the interplay between the two characters is a master class in top quality acting.

This is definitely a 5 star show. Credit has to go to director Simon Evans for bringing this twenty-year-old piece to life and making it feel so fresh, vibrant and relevant. This isn’t an evening’s light entertainment but nor is it doomy and grim. There’s plenty of humour too. Just expect to leave the theatre feeling a little itchier and a little sweatier than when you first arrived.

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Bug is playing at Found 111, London, until 7th May.

 

@chrisb715