THEATRE | BUG STARRING JAMES NORTON & KATE FLEETWOOD
I couldn't have been more excited to be back at new theatre venue Found111 for their latest offering, a play called Bug, starring Kate Fleetwood and James Norton. After seeing The Dazzle, which was the first play they staged at the recently opened space, and crowning it the 'best play I've ever seen', I probably would have willingly gone to watch paint dry in that venue but let's not allow any previous experiences to cloud my judgement and get down to the nitty gritty. First of all the official description for Bug simply states: A seedy motel room. Oklahoma City. Summer. Agnes, a lonely cocktail waitress, is holed up from her violent ex-con ex-husband, seeking solace in drink and drugs. Until a stranger arrives. Really not much to go off and that's taking into consideration the promotional photo that depicts Kate Fleetwood and James Norton erm, sitting in a decrepit motel room. I wondered how insects would play into the storyline? There was only one way to find out.
I arrived quite early to the venue, familiar with the drill, and the spattering of unallocated seats that meant the best places would always be taken on a first come, first served basis. Once again I found myself quickly locating a cushioned seat amongst the jumble of odd pairs, a choice that put me almost smack bang in the centre of the front row which, although usually a most desirable position, can be quite confronting at Found111 where there's no actual stage and the actors are only an arm's reach away from touching you. Bug opens in said seedy motel room when the protagonist Agnes (Kate Fleetwood), stumbles in from the bathroom, a woman of 40 odd years, dressed simply in a tank top and rather mumsy denim shorts. She and her friend are getting ready to go out to a party but her phone is constantly ringing from who she presumes to be her ex husband. After a picking it up a couple of times to no answer on the other side of the line, she no longer feels in the mood to go out and this is when her friend introduces her to the mysterious Peter (James Norton) with whom she hits it off immediately even though she knows pretty much nothing about him. He seems considerate and kind initially, looking out for Agnes' needs and though he more or less moves in with her, it never feels like he is imposing in any way. Whilst Peter is out to buy them both breakfast, Agnes' ex-husband pays an unexpected visit that results in a heated and physical argument before Peter returns. Though Agnes is adamant that she can look after herself, she finds it comforting to have Peter there for company, she admits that she's been very lonely indeed. Despite warming up to Peter, we still know very little about him. It gets to the point where it's very difficult for me to talk about the play without giving away a little bit of the story so if you want to see it completely spoiler free, perhaps stop reading here. One night whilst they are in bed, Peter tosses and turns because he keeps getting bitten by a bug. He wakes Agnes up to look for the culprit under the covers but once he finally catches it and shows it to her, Agnes can't seem to see it. If the warning bells start ringing for the audience here, unfortunately Agnes is blindsided by her fear of losing him. The situation quickly escalates as the next scene opens and it's revealed that as some time has passed, there is now well and truly a bug infestation in the motel room. This is around where Peter finally reveals his past to Agnes and why he's been so concerned about capturing all the bugs. It's an interesting twist that I didn't see coming but feels almost like a conspiracy theory straight out of a sci-fi film.
Kate Fleetwood was absolutely amazing as the protagonist, it's almost as if you saw the entire story unfold through her eyes and she perfectly portrayed all the different sides to Agnes: her strength but also her vulnerability. James Norton did a brilliant job alongside her, an attractive stranger with a dark secret. I was also equally impressed by the supporting cast who brought so much more dimension to a story that ultimately took place in a single room. Alec Newman was perfectly menacing as Agnes' ex-husband, I almost wanted to flinch every time he got close and I loved Daisy Lewis as Agnes' best friend. The entire play had a tense, claustrophobic atmosphere to it that I'm still uncertain whether the tiny venue actually attributed to or not (will have to watch more plays at Found111 before I can decide). Sat in the front row, I really had to be conscious of my position, there was a moment when James went to lie down on the floor with his face literally a centimetre away from my foot (sorry dude) and it would be more than awkward if I accidentally obstructed or worse, hit one of the actors. Nevertheless, standout performances and quick-fire action, combined with some eerie lighting and sound work built up the play to a final crescendo. A climax that unfortunately almost had my eyes rolling all the way to the back of my head. I must admit I more or less predicted where this story was going ever since Agnes mentioned that she couldn't see the first bug and then it was revealed that Peter was a Gulf war veteran. It never occurred to me that the bugs could be anything other than a part of his delusion. However, it was more unfathomable to me that someone like Agnes (or at least I thought I knew her character in the beginning) would end up going along with it without any questions. I felt the ending was just such a disservice to her character but perhaps it's the feminist in me that sometimes clouds my judgement. Despite not having much of an emotional impact on me either, I think Bug made up for it with it's fast-paced atmosphere, it was one of those plays that gripped my attention from the get-go and had zero lulls/boring bits. It wasn't really anything compared to The Dazzle though, but I already had the sneaking suspicion that this would be the case with any play I saw after it. Speaking of, can I just randomly add that I met David Dawson again recently and the first thing he said to me was "You wrote that lovely piece (on The Dazzle) on your blog!" Like no prior convo, he literally saw me and exclaimed that. I was (who am I kidding, I still am) in such a state of shock that he a) read my blog and b) recognised me from my blog, like what?! I tried to play it cool but honestly I was totally fangirling on the inside. Now I have this irrational fear that a corresponding actor/director/playwright/anyone involved in the play will actually read every theatre review I post from now on and I'm feeling the pressure but hey, these are my own thoughts, I'm nothing but honest and plays are obviously subjective to the every audience. I also met James Norton at stage door after the play and he was so lovely, he even cheekily asked me if I actually felt itchy as a consequence of watching Bug. I must say I did for a long while afterwards and my friend who I saw it with literally dreamt that her bedroom was infested by bugs the following night. So love it or hate it, it's safe to say that this is one play that will definitely sink deep under your skin.
Bug is at Found111 until the 7th of May. All info plus tickets here.