Writer: Phoebe Eclair-Powell
Director: Hannah Hauer-King
Reviewer: Andy Moseley
Sam is young. Sam is impulsive. Sam is a single mum with two children who is being blackmailed into having sex with the man in the flat above hers. Sam cleans the man’s flat for cash-in-hand undeclared income. Sam is a collection of box ticking dramatic clichés rolled into one. But that’s the intention, as the play aims to make its audience challenge the judgments they make about such people. Except, of course, that when a play is as loaded with generic tropes as this, you know which way the writer wants you to go before it even starts. Plus, the average Soho Theatre patron probably already rejects such stereotypical perceptions, so you’re not really challenging their views, just proving they’re right.
Because of all of this baggage, it’s always going to take something special for Fury to stand out from the crowd and claim a place in the canon of worthwhile pieces of social commentary. Does it do it? Yes, eventually, and oddly only when it casts off all the stereotypes and focuses on the characters themselves.
Ahead of that, the story plays out with the accompaniment of a chorus interspersing character biographies and judgements on their action with extracts from songs that provide additional commentary on events. The songs work better than the character details and opinions which often come across as a mixture of exposition and subtext that the writer could have trusted an audience to work out for themselves. The songs, in contrast, along with the accompanying choreography, add an extra layer to events, getting into Sam’s head and delivering personal and societal condemnation as the walls close in on her.
When they do close in, to the accompaniment of a Bat For Lashes track, the result is brilliant, and the play really takes off. Sarah Ridgeway, who until that point has been doing a great job of fashioning a character out of token events and traits, suddenly delivers a breathtaking monologue where she inhabits Sam so completely and with such a level of intensity that you learn more about her in that moment than you have in all that has gone before. Her emotional exhaustion and commitment are clear for all to see, as well as being incredibly powerful, and setting the tone for the final third of the play.
As the play builds to its dramatic and shocking conclusion, Tom, the monster from upstairs, played by Alex Austin, also comes into his own. The levels of manipulation and cunning, and the motivation that lies behind them, create a truly chilling climax as you realise how Tom is possibly equally as trapped as Sam. Austin’s performance shifts up a gear as the complexities of his character emerge, while Ridgeway continues to deliver an award-worthy performance right to the very last moment.
It’s this that elevates the play above a lot of the genre it sits with, far more so than the stylistic touch of the chorus or the self-conscious attempts to make Sam an archetypal scourge of the Daily Mail reader. When the story is allowed to speak for itself, Fury becomes an excellent psychological drama filled with subtleties and complex damaged characters that command and deserve the audience’s full attention. It’s just a shame it doesn’t do this sooner.
Runs until 30 July 2016 | Image:The Other Richard