Sometimes I wake up in the morning and all the missed opportunities of my life stare at me, grind me down until I’m nothing. Nothing but dust.
A lonely woman, abandoned by her husband, lives in an isolated house with her outspoken, anthropomorphic cat, Bartholomew. One day she is visited by Ken, a Pest Controller, who claims to be her ex-husband returned to her. Deceived by his lies and obsessed with memories of the past, the woman accepts Ken into her life, despite the sceptical protestations of Bartholomew. As her self-deception grows and Ken’s true intentions become clear, how will she survive the competitive machinations of her two male companions? And is there more to Bartholomew than meets the eye?
The world premiere of darkly comic psychological thriller ‘Mites’ is currently playing at London’s Tristan Bates Theatre. Written by James Mannion, this absurdist piece is an interpretation of mental health based on the writer’s personal experience. A production that pushes boundaries and promises to be unlike anything audiences will have seen, ‘Mites’ explores the emotional turmoil, the paranoia and the mistrust which can result from mental health issues, probing important questions about the agency and manipulation of those vulnerable in today’s society, with a particular focus on relationships.
I spoke to director Marcus Marsh about why he believes ‘Mites’ addresses questions that are important for today’s society.
Marcus explains that “the show is about a woman called Ruth, who lives alone, and finds her house infested with dust mites. She is visited by a pest controller called Ken, who claims to be her estranged husband Kenneth. We then see how her pet cat Bartholomew questions her decision to take Ken back, and the story unfolds from there”.
Based on the experiences of writer James Mannion, Marcus explains that the show is “a dark comedy, but it helps us gain a new perspective from his (James’) own personal experiences. It’s a new presentation of theatre, a new kind of absurdist theatre”, which delves into an absurd exploration of the writer’s past.
“It’s a new presentation of theatre, a new kind of absurdist theatre”
‘Mites’ depicts a sinister exploration of the manipulation that lies beneath relationships, with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable in today’s society. According to Marcus, the topic of mental health is “something that’s at the forefront of society at the moment”. ‘Mites’ “explores the manipulation in the relationships between people, and how people are taking advantage of those who are potentially isolated from the rest of society”.
“something that’s at the forefront of society at the moment”
In addition to exploring mental health, ‘Mites’ also addresses such themes as emotional turmoil, obsession, paranoia, lies and mistrust, all of which are portrayed in new and exciting ways. “It goes back to this new alternative that we’re trying to portray, the style of theatre, the style of the piece, trying to figuratively and literally focus on the audience, and on trying to create an atmosphere that’s bringing the audience deeper, and trying to focus on each route in our vision, through the lens of this world”.
The show is billed as a ‘boundary-pushing production’, and Marcus told me what audiences can expect. “In terms of the style itself, it’s new. Also the theme. Mental health is portrayed in different ways, but this is new. It’s a high-energy piece with a great cast doing new things, trying to create this atmosphere. It’s not really done in theatre. Quite traditional theatre can bypass this, whereas we’ve tried to be very engaging, very fast-paced, and the style itself creates this journey that’s groundbreaking”.
“we’ve tried to be very engaging, very fast-paced, and the style itself creates this journey that’s groundbreaking”
“Going back to the state of the world with Brexit, the political situation at the moment is becoming more absurd”. This pioneering piece of absurdist theatre promises to shine a light on important topics, so that audiences will notice, pay more attention, and learn.
This is the world premiere of ‘Mites’, and much work has gone into the show in terms of production, direction, and staging. Marcus tells me, “We’ve had three weeks of rehearsals, with a great cast – Claire Marie Hall (Ruth), Richard Henderson (Bartholomew) and George Howard (Ken). In terms of process, me and James met doing Scratch Nights (evenings allowing emerging artists the opportunity to perform their material to a live audience)”. When Marcus saw James perform, he knew he wanted to work with him. The two later “had a really great process with our designer, Cecilia Trono, who’’s been really brilliant in creative massive sets, quite stand-outish in terms of style. It’s very white, as soon as you walk in the theatre it creates that atmosphere. It’s been very exciting”.
“as soon as you walk in the theatre it creates that atmosphere”
Marcus tells me of the significance of the play’s title. “It does play with the whole sense of ‘might’ in terms of possibility. There are multiple layers and meanings to lines, in terms of what the audience read into, so there’s definitely a play on words there in terms of a double meaning, and the possibility of outcomes which the audience think are going to happen as we uncover layers”.
With a cast of just three, I asked Marcus whether, as a director, he found it more challenging to engage an audience with such a small cast, or whether he found it easier to draw audiences in and make them invest more heavily. “I think it’s easier, because each character has got a clear arc in the show. Where you have bigger casts, sometimes their story can get lost, and the stages of their development aren’t clear. Having a three-hander makes things more engaging, because the show has more of a focus upon each of their story-lines.
“each character has got a clear arc in the show”
Actor Richard Henderson plays Bartholomew, Ruth’s pet cat. This, however, is no ordinary cat. “Is he a cat? Is he not a cat? We find this out through the show, I don’t want to give too much away. Bartholomew is a pseudosexual, second class citizen, who has his cultural habitat invaded by Ken the pest controller, so we have conflicting activity between those two, and we see the consequences, and the effect it has on Ruth”.
“The show is very funny, but has dark themes as well”. Labelled as a ‘darkly comic absurdist play’, Marcus spoke to me about striking the right balance between comedy and darkness, which is achieved in “how the show is presented in terms of the style of it, and the staging of it. We’ve been very lucky with the actors we’ve got, they’ve all worked really well with the comedy, and in presenting that, and getting the balance right between the more vulnerable, dramatic moments, and the comedy. It is a massive challenge. But it’s exciting for a Director”.
“The show is very funny, but has dark themes as well”
Writer James Mannion has explained previously that, in the show’s darkness, there remains a hope. On being asked about this, Marcus explains, “At the beginning, when the audience start watching the show, there may be a lot of confusion at the situation. They’ll be looking at Ruth and thinking, ‘why is she making these decisions?’ To an audience members they’re clearly quite rash decisions, and they’re obviously based on nostalgia. As the show goes on, we learn more about Ruth, her background, and her story, and at the end, I’m not going to give too much away, but there is a quite clear ending of hope.
In terms of mental health, going back to that, we all hope that for these difficult problems we find ourselves in sometimes, there are solutions. As conversations come up and we talk about it more, we can help each other. There’s a really clear ending of hope”.
“There’s a really clear ending of hope”
Regarding what he wants audiences to take away from ‘Mites’, Marcus suggests that “I want them to find the hope in the show. Although we talk about vulnerability, there’s a lot of strength to it as well, and it’s about finding our inner strength. Sometimes, in our darkest moments, we don’t feel like that. But it’s important to find your inner strength”.
“it’s important to find your inner strength”
‘Mites’ is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 26th October. Don’t miss this darkly comic, absurdist, groundbreaking, hopeful production.