The Mercy Seat

30 Jun

Two mean spirited people with American accents remain in a room and argue about their relationship for 100 mins (including a 15 minute interval).

For many people, this would be the archetypal modern play. Which is why they stay at home.

But, in this case, context is all.  Our couple are arguing about their future while the rest of America, and much of the world, is in shock.

It is New York. It is September 12, 2001.

What to many was an unfathomable tragedy is to our couple an opportunity. They’re having an affair. He is married with children. Perhaps yesterday morning he was in one of the towers when the planes struck, instead of at his mistress’ place having his penis sucked. Is it their chance to just disappear and start again?

photo by Katy Green Loughrey

photo by Katy Green Loughrey

This production of Neil LaBute’s play is both funny and confronting. The performances by Rebecca Martin and Patrick Magee are powerful and intriguing.

Are we meant to take the characters as real people? Is this play gritty naturalism? If it is, it’s a vision of humanity so bleak that it approaches the immoral. (There’s a school of theatre that equates negativity with truthfulness. It’s the philosophy of those who wish to grant themselves moral holidays. If it’s just human nature to act dreadfully, how can my behaviour be at fault?)

The challenge of this play is the context. Presumably none of us have been in the situation represented.

Or have we?

Many of us are tempted to think the world is screwed, that it’s a chaotic mess, and that we’re all going to hell in a hand cart. I call it a temptation because it allows us to believe that it’s justifiable to be entirely self seeking. After all, in extremis, the call goes out “Every man for himself”.

The Mercy Seat is an intelligent and thought provoking production, a timely reminder that we must not use the magnitude of our society’s problems as an excuse to grant ourselves moral holidays.

Veronica Kaye


The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute

Old Fitzroy Theatre til 5 July

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