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A CurtainUp London London Review

"You could probably pick better places than Oklahoma to be a homo. " — Agnes
Kate Fleetwood as Agnes and James Norton as Peter (Photo: Simon Annand )
Tracy Letts' play Bug shows in the perfect space that is Emily Dobbs' Found 111 in Charing Cross Road. Formerly a studio space for St Martin's College of Art, seventy one steps lead to a room with the playing space surrounded by four stepped rows of eclectic dining chairs. This is the Oklahoma City cheap motel where Agnes (Kate Fleetwood) works as a cocktail waitress. Agnes is recently divorced and her abusive husband Jerry (Alec Newman) is just out of jail on parole and subject to a restraining order which he ignores in order to steal from and batter his ex-wife.

Kate Fleetwood with her remarkable cheekbones, wide set eyes and gaunt look is vulnerable and lonely as Agnes. Her protective friend R.C. (Daisy Lewis) tries to support her but Agnes self medicates with smoking crack and drinking alcohol. Into this room comes mystery war veteran Peter Evans (James Norton), tall, nervous and at home with smoking drugs from a glass pipe. He asks to sleep on Agnes' floor and she agrees. He seems gentle and kind but when he thinks the smoke alarm is part of a conspiracy machine, our credence is stretched.

Bitten one night by what he thinks is an aphid, Peter strips off the bed and searches for the insect. He volunteers to fumigate the room and after the interval Ben Stones' set is hung with fly papers, there is a microscope and numerous bug sprays and Peter's bite has become a flaming red sore. In the audience, tightly packed next to our neighbours, the suggestion of something biting us is apparent. It emerges that Peter has been held in an army hospital for five years and is convinced that the army have been experimenting on him and have planted bugs in his body.

We are in the realms of the 1990s X Factor (now getting a new television series) where truth may be stranger than fiction. The old adage comes to mind, "You may be paranoid but it doesn't mean that they aren't out to get you!" The mystery of Bug is that while the mild looking Peter seems plausible at first, we are in all likelihood looking at someone with a serious mental health condition. It is tragic for him and for Agnes who defends him when R.C. questions the actual existence of the bugs. A man claiming to be an army doctor, Dr Sweet (Carl Prekopp) calls to readmit Peter and we hear a helicopter circling the motel. Peter is covered with infected "bites" and there is a harrowing scene when he attempts to extract his own molar with a pair of pliers.

The performances are very special in Found 111 because we are at such close quarters and the characters are so searing in the hands of a talented cast. Kate Fleetwood's Agnes is fragile and sad but loyal and James Norton's stricken war veteran is a whole world away from Prince Andrei in the BBC's recent War and Peace. The soundscape is modern music that sounds like static interference. Good and dramatic lighting adds ambience.

Bug is a gripping entertainment which will have you scratching imaginary bites for some time. Get a ticket! You can always take antihistamine.
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Written by Tracy Letts
Directed by Simon Evans
Starring: Kate Fleetwood, James Norton, Alec Newman, Daisy Lewis, Carl Prekopp
Designed by Ben Stones
Lighting: Richard Howell
Composer and sound: Edward Lewis
Movement: Oliver Kanderbhai
Running time: One hour 55 minutes with an interval
Box Office : Online
Booking to 7th May 2016
There are 71 steps to the Studio and no elevator
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th March 2016 performance at Found111, 111 Charing Cross Road London WC2H 0DT (Rail/Tube: Tottenham Court Road)
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