James Mannion’s deeply disturbing but bleakly funny play is given a thoroughly gripping production at the Tristan Bates Theatre.
Given today (10th October) is world Mental Health Awareness day it seems appropriate that I’m now reviewing a show that places so much heartbreaking awareness of just how much a mental health problem can cause your overall wellbeing.
Mites begins with Ruth who has been abandoned by her husband and dealing with infestation of dust mites that she asks Ken a pest controller to come over and deal with the problem. Gradually (and despite the protestations of her rather intelligent cat Bartholomew) she allows Ken further into her life – but as his true colours begin to show – she becomes overwhelmed by the competitiveness for control over her from both of her companions.
Written with a dark sense of humour, James Mannion’s play grippingly explores manipulation in relationships and the effect that it has on those who are vulnerable in society. This is brilliantly showcased through Marcus Marsh’s slow-burning and intense production – where moments in which both Bartholomew and Ken try and both convince Ruth that they both are telling the truth proving to be particularly insightful into her mental state.
The sharpness of the script also effectively captures Ruth’s loneliness and desperation for outside company, meaning that she latches onto Ken easily. Meanwhile Ken and Bartholomew’s charisma and apparent sincerity makes the audience believe in them as much as Ruth does. Everything has been cleverly written that the audience is never quite sure exactly what is going to happen – particularly with final couple of surprise twists – nothing or no one is quite as they appear.
A lot of what makes this production so convincing is the way in which the cast deliver their performances. From Claire Marie Hall’s increasingly vulnerable performance as Ruth that is consistently heartbreaking to watch such as during the hospital scene, George Howard’s easily charming but ultimately nasty Ken and Richard Henderson’s wonderfully dry, sarcastic performance as Bartholomew – all of the cast successfully and convincingly draw the audience into this sinister world.
There are moments in which it can be uncomfortable to watch – such as when Ken tries to convince Ruth to open the safe, manipulating her to make her see its for the best, while other moments such as the scene in which the dust mites have a moment in the spotlight are funny but out of sorts with the tone of the rest of the play. It just seems on occasion that the balance between the comedy and drama aren’t quite even in places.
But it is a deeply focused and intriguing piece of drama as much as it is described as a black comedy. Quiet and understated, this is a production that gradually builds up the vicious side to the story (there are trigger warnings understandably particularly with regards to the mental abuse that Ruth finds herself subjected to) effectively.
Deeply disturbing but engaging, Mites is given a thoroughly memorable production and hopefully this will not be the last we see of it.
By Emma Clarendon
Mites continues to play at the Tristan Bates Theatre until the 26th October.