If you recall the dysfunctional family in August: Osage County, brought by Steppenwolf to the National Theatre, you will not be surprised by the deeply vulnerable and damaged characters of BUG, Tracy Letts’ 2005 play currently at Found111. The play is delivered by a superb cast led by Kate Fleetwood as Agnes and James Norton as Peter.
Agnes, a waitress, is a woman living in a motel room in a small town in Oklahoma, on the margins of US society, fearful about the release from prison of her ex-husband. Surrounded by the props of a fearful and lonely life, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, she is visited by her friend and a friend of hers in the form of Peter, the part taken by James Norton. The susceptibility of these lives is apparent in the first encounter between Agnes and Peter whose non-threatening, non-macho and superficially gentle demeanour immediately finds an emotional, if wary, response, from Agnes. However, unidentified phone calls have already made Agnes anxious about the re-appearance of her aggressive ex-husband who does indeed return to try and assert his possession of Agnes but after a stand-off with Peter takes money off Agnes and leaves.
Left alone the relationship develops but it is clear that Peter’s perception of the world is somehow more intense than what would be regarded as normal. A sudden and dramatic reaction to being bitten in bed and the subsequent search for the responsible bug is the first obvious sign of what becomes an increasingly obsessive behaviour, which includes the use of a microscope and Petrie dishes, numerous cans of insect repellent, to take on the infestation of bugs not to mention sudden departures from the motel room with no explanation. However, there is an explanation. We learn through Agnes’ friend that a Dr Sweet has been trying to find Peter and that Peter has been in an army hospital for four years. We learn that he was a combatant in one of the Gulf Wars. Agnes, who is at first, dismissive and then dismayed by Peter’s behaviour becomes absorbed by his delusional world and finally a fully participating member of it. The play culminates in full paranoia fuelled by a conspiracy theory whose potency leads to a tragic and terrifying endgame.
The mesmeric Kate Fleetwood and James Norton were joined by Alec Newman, Daisy Lewis and Carl Prekopp, who all gave fine performances in a very intense evening. Found111 was the perfect location for this disturbing piece with the dilapidated interior of the old St. Martins Art School blending effectively with the design of the production. Lighting, sound and physical design were all tremendous in creating the deluded and enclosed world of BUG.
Highlight of the production – Agnes’s susceptibility to Peter’s delusions leading to her own tragic conspiracy theory.