Neil La Bute’s The Mercy Seat is currently playing at the Hen and Chicken’s Theatre. With a small cast of two, the piece is a 70-minute look into the lives of Ben Harcourt and his mistress Abby.
The action starts with audio from news reports of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on 11th September 2001, the time is 4am on 12th September, Ben is sat in his chair in Abby’s loft apartment in New York staring blankly into space, his phone is ringing. Abby comes home laden with shopping bags to a ringing mobile phone…
What looks like it’s going to be a fantastic piece of theatre, a study of the darkness of humankind, the ability to use a disaster such as 9.11 to run away with your mistress and start a new life, sadly doesn’t quite materialise on the stage.
I must say that the script is superb, both the roles of Abby and Ben are dream castings, however, sadly Isabella Verrico and Jonathan Blakeley didn’t quite bring the piece to life as I’d hoped.
For me there were a couple of moments of solid rapport between the two, however, a lot of the time the piece felt a little rushed and unnatural. the piece was delivered with one person speaking then another speaking back immediately. The full 70 minutes an argument. It is hard to believe that there wouldn’t be times of silence, contemplation, a good old “Pinter pause” used for dramatic effect.
There was also, I’m sad to say, a lack of chemistry between the two actors; this lack of spark would have allowed an audience to see that these two did “love” each other and it wasn’t a physical exchange between them. Also, it would add to Ben’s horror of leaving his wife and 12-year-old daughter behind to be with his boss/mistress. Instead, it was hard to understand why they were together, they didn’t appear to like each other, no chemistry and a continued argument – when they did hug and kiss it looked forced. This may be due to a lack of true understanding and commitment to the text or again a casting/directorial decision. Either way, for this piece to work the casting, is paramount.
The staging was very basic. An armchair, a sideboard acting as cupboard/fridge, a stool, and a Persian rug! I’m not sure if it was the directorial choice to use an armchair on the stage, rather than the couch that is referenced in the piece, or if was due to a lack of availability of said couch, however, I feel that using a 3-seater couch would have given Isabella Verrico more opportunity to connect with Jonathan. Instead, often Isabella looked very exposed and uncomfortable with her staging (again I’m not sure if the piece was fully blocked by a director or the characters were able to move freely across the stage.)
It may sound like I’m being overtly critical here, however, I think with a play such as this, where there isn’t really any action and the drama comes from the language and the way in which it is delivered (as with Mamet, Pinter, Albee) it is paramount that the cast are able to truely connect with the text and each other.
Review by Faye Stockley
The Mercy Seat by Neil La Bute
Abby – Isabella Verrico
Ben – Jonathan Blakely
Directed by Alex Miller
The play is set in Abby’s apartment, 12th September, 2001.
Two planes have just crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre. New York is in a state of confusion, panic and loss. Two individuals are, however, given a life changing opportunity. They have been searching for this moment since they met 3 years ago. Can they use this national disaster as a chance to escape?
The Mercy Seat looks into the lives of Ben, a (presumed dead) worker in the World Trade Centre, and Abby, his mistress and boss. This one act unpicks the integral problems of two people dissatisfied with their lives. Will they run away amidst the chaos of 9/11? Or will Ben return to a family unsure whether he is even alive?
2nd – 6th May 2017
Hen & Chickens Theatre
109 St Paul’s Road
London N1 2NA