A philosophising cat, a famished dog and a family of mites all make appearances – and strong impressions – in Mites, a new play by up-and-coming young British playwright James Mannion, written in the best traditions of the Theatre of the Absurd.
Ruth, a lonely woman abandoned by her husband, lives in isolation with her beloved cat Bartholomew. When she’s visited by a pest controller named Ken, who’s come to rid her infestation of the titular creatures, she becomes convinced he’s her unfaithful husband Kenneth returned. As she – and we – become more confused, the three-hander becomes a twisting battle of manipulation, deception and domination. And things get very dark indeed!
I’m no expert on absurdism, but I’m confident Eugene Ionesco would have been pleased by the fleeting rhinoceros reference here, as well as the multi-roling three-strong cast’s various feline, canine and insect characterisations. Is any of this real? Is it all in Ruth’s mind? Who is perpetrator versus victim? Where does power lie?
In addition to Ionesco, while watching Mites, I couldn’t stop thinking about the case of Sally Challen, which made headlines and judicial precedent earlier this year. After years of abuse and adultery, in 2010, Challen murdered her husband Richard, for which she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
“With all the lies you’ve told me, it’s getting hard to figure out”
In 2017, Justice for Women launched a campaign and grounds for appeal on her behalf, highlighting new psychiatric evidence about coercive control and diminished responsibility. This past June, after a high-profile court case, her plea was converted to manslaughter and she was released after nine years and four months based on time already served. Can you understand how someone could be pushed to that point of provocation?
After last night’s performance, I discussed this with director and Blueleaf Theatre founder Marcus Marsh, producer Rebecca Lyle and cast members Richard Henderson, Claire Marie Hall and George Howard. Watch and share the full post-show talk below.
Mites runs at London’s Tristan Bates Theatre until 26 October 2019.
Event photography by Peter Jones.
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