Robert Tanitch reviews Bug at Found 111 Charing Cross Road, London WC2
There are 71 steps to the temporary and very cramped theatre space on the top floor of the building which used to house Central St Martin’s School of Art. There is no lift.
The draw is James Norton who has just had a huge success on TV playing the psycho in Happy Valley and Andrei in War & Peace. His leading lady is Kate Fleetwood who has just had a success as a modern Medea at the Almeida.
There must, however, surely be better plays to revive than Tracy Letts’ bizarre and disturbing psychodrama which premiered 20 years ago. You may have seen the 2006 movie with Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon.
Bug takes place in a squalid motel on the outskirts of Oklahoma City. It is the home of a lonely woman, Agnes (Kate Fleetwood), who is addicted to booze and drugs.
A good friend introduces her to a Gulf War veteran, Peter, who (in James Norton’s performance) seems a nice, gentle chap and the perfect antidote to her ex-husband, an abusive brute who has just come out of prison.
Pete is convinced her room is infested with bugs. Only he at first sees the bugs; but he gradually persuades Agnes to see them, too. Where do these bugs come from? They actually come from his unhinged mind. He had spent some time in a military hospital and is paranoid that the doctors carried out experiments on his body and that the bugs are in his blood and breeding.
The line between reality and delusion is deliberately blurred. The whirring threatening sound of a helicopter sounds real enough. But the basic problem is that neither Letts’s claustrophobic play nor Simon Evans’s suitably claustrophobic production ever really grips or convinces.
The most horrific moment is watching Norton doing dentistry on his teeth with a pair of pliers.