The climb up a narrow and dusty staircase to Found 111, London’s newest performance space, creates a suitable sense of foreboding. At the top, the small auditorium in the former Central Saint Martins School of Art building holds just 130 people (at a sometimes uncomfortable squeeze), magnifying the feelings of claustrophobia and entrapment at the heart of this brilliant revival.
Kate Fleetwood stars as Agnes, a woman living a drug-fuelled life in a rundown Oklahoma motel and trying to avoid her abusive former partner who has just been released from jail. There she meets enigmatic drifter Peter (James Norton) and the pair form a bond beyond the liberal sharing of the cocaine pipe.
Kate Fleetwood and James Norton in BUG
But what starts as a story about two lost and damaged souls takes a darker turn when Peter begins to obsess about their room being infested with all manner of creepy crawlies. Is his increasing rage the result of drug-induced paranoia or, as he believes, something more sinister resulting from his time in the military?
Tracy Letts’ psycho-drama is never less than totally compelling as the lines between reality and imagination become increasingly blurred. It’s not a comfortable watch; that it literally made my flesh creep should be taken as a compliment by director Simon Evans. And with the audience right there in the motel room, being up close and personal with Peter’s running sores is not for the squeamish.
Both leads are superb. Norton’s visceral performance shows why he is the man of the moment, while Kate Fleetwood demonstrates once again that she’s one of our most versatile and accomplished actresses.
The intimacy between cast and audience adds an extra frisson and, in the end, you really can’t imagine this play being performed anywhere else. You’ll feel in desperate need of a shower afterwards, though.