Last night I headed to the Bread and Roses to check out my first show of the Clapham Fringe Festival. This festival runs exclusively at the Bread & Roses until 13th October, and offers a wonderfully varied selection of shows, all on the theme of ‘Beyond Borders’. You can find out more about it here: https://www.claphamfringe.com/
If my first show of the festival is an indicator of things to come, we’re in for a treat. This is not a conventional review, as ‘Mercy’ was a rehearsed reading rather than a fully produced show. However, the lack of set and the presence of scripts didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this rich and absorbing family drama.
‘Mercy’ is a play about family, love, death, spirituality and cultural identity. It centres around a British/Iranian family. Structured in a non-linear way that heightens both the drama and the emotional impact of the piece, we are very much drawn into the lives of this family who are an embodiment of the melting pot that is London. Both the immigrant and second generation experience are brought to life, not through external factors, but through how they relate with each other. While there is a lot that is specific to the Iranian experience, it is also a universal story of love, family and belonging. I found a lot to relate to, given my own immigrant heritage and how that impacted my family dynamic. It does create a very unique family bond.
The subject matter, on the face of things, could be dark. The matriarch of the family is dying and wants to end her life on her own terms. However, the details in how the different members of the family interact with each other, bring a depth of humour and love that keeps the story out of maudlin territory. I laughed a lot during the 1hr45 minute read-through. I was totally absorbed, entertained, gripped and at some points I must confess to having tears in my eyes.
Under Nicky Allpress’s direction the talented cast (they really are brilliant) include enough carefully placed moments of direct physical engagement to bring this character-led story to life. From a gentle touch of the face, to a turning away, these little details are so evocative they take us into the world of the play, and the scripts the actors are brandishing become just another detail. A bit like when you watch a great subtitled film and realise, by the end, that you’re not noticing yourself reading the words anymore.
A lot of care has been taken in the casting for the reading, ensuring it reflects the Iranian heritage of the central characters. This further helps transport you into the rich world of the story. And while I think Mercy has the scope to be produced very successfully for the stage, there is something cinematic about it too, with hints at a backstory that could be further explored in a longer form format. I could definitely see myself curling up on my sofa to watch it on my TV on a cold Sunday evening.
Whatever its future, I look forward to seeing what Writers & Anglers Theatre Troupe do next with Mandi Riggi’s beautifully written, funny, gripping and moving family drama.