Reviews London TheatreWest End & Central Published 4 April 2016

Review: Bug at Found111

Found111 ⋄ 24th March – 7th May

Tim Bano reviews a performance of Tracy Letts’ play that “doesn’t quite get under the skin.”

Tim Bano
James Norton and Kate Fleetwood in Bug at Found111. Photo: Simon Annand.

James Norton and Kate Fleetwood in Bug at Found111. Photo: Simon Annand.

What’s that constant humming sound, the one that never goes away, the one that gets louder when everything else goes quiet? Was that a click I just heard on the phone line? Why does my skin itch in the middle of the night?

Tracy Letts’ tense thriller, now 20 years old, plays on simple fears and magnifies them until they become schizophrenic delusions. Agnes is holed up in a motel room, trying to avoid her fresh-out-of-jail husband. She’s introduced to ex-soldier Peter, a seemingly sweet young man, who ends up staying.

Like The Dazzle from a few months back, Bug is staged in the trendy and cramped – sorry, intimate – Found 111. Like The Dazzle it’s directed by Simon Evans, and like The Dazzle, it has in its cast an actor whose faithful fan following is sure to sell some tickets. James Norton is excellent on screen – Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley is a brilliantly disturbing villain – but his performance as Peter here is a bit too diluted.

There’s something dispiritingly cynical about the sheer number of mismatched seats that have been crammed into the space here, so that elbows are almost forced to interlock and the audience physically forms the walls of the motel room. It doesn’t add to the intensity; it merely adds to the discomfort.

What Kate Fleetwood and Norton nail is that period of prelude in a relationship, the pretence of normal that we wear for first impressions. They are polite to each other, sweet, kind and being their best selves. From the beginning we see Fleetwood snort coke and smoke a crack pipe, dressed in a grubby shirt, and yet she maintains a ladylike act that is both endearing and tragic.

Norton, too, is best when he is softly-spoken and sweet because there is a hint of something sinister underneath that helps to build a sense of cloying tension. The more unwell the character becomes, however, the less Norton can sustain that tension and even in the small, cramped theatre space there isn’t enough thrill or threat or danger.

But, with his fringe plastered down and his well-built frame looking too big for this tiny motel room, Norton is a convincing outcast. He’s believably an ex-soldier ill-suited to the career path he chose.

And, like many people for whom life is one big conspiracy, he seems like a normal person. Because he’s right, of course he is; he explains his reasoning for believing the things he does. He follows his internal logic to its own sensible conclusions. Taking coincidence and insisting that it can’t be. No such thing. Always looking for connection. Because it’s what we do.

Slightly let down by a space that could have been a huge advantage, Bug is still a pertinent and taut bit of writing but in this production it doesn’t quite get under the skin.

Bug is on at Found111 until 7th May 2016. Click here for tickets. 


Tim Bano

Tim is a freelance arts writer and theatre critic. He writes regularly for Time Out, The Stage and other publications. He is co-creator of Pursued By A Bear, Exeunt Magazine's theatre podcast.

Review: Bug at Found111 Show Info

Directed by Simon Evans

Written by Tracy Letts

Cast includes James Norton, Kate Fleetwood, Daisy Lewis, Alec Newman, Carl Prekopp



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