Mites is a new absurdist play that deals with themes of manipulation, mental illness and power within a relationship, particularly power which is held by men over women. A cast of three tell the story of Ruth (Claire Marie Hall), her cat Bartholomew (Richard Henderson) and pest controller Ken (George Howard) whose lives intertwine in unexpected and comedic ways.
Leading the small cast, Hall gives an engaging performance mixing both perfect comic timing with later moments of believable mental anguish as the character’s story unfolds. Henderson also delivers an extremely funny performance as the disgruntled intellectual cat whilst also handling the later gear change in his character in a very effective way. His costume is a stroke of genius by Set and Costume Designer Cecelia Trono and sets up laughs from the audience from his first entrance.
The set design by Trono certainly makes the most of the small space, which almost feels immersive as the audience begins to feel their skin crawl from the impression of dust and grime in Ruth’s house. A set reveal towards the last section of the action which twists the plot would seem very clever if a similar device had not already been used as the major twist in an already established successful and well-known play.
Playwright James Mannion’s script is genuinely very funny with moments of touching reflection as well, particularly from Hall’s character. The play holds together well until towards the end when one too many absurd segments muddle its overall message. However, a scene where the actors play characters wearing masks is a nice addition to the overall production and adds further comment to the theme of control in relationships. There are some very nice touches in the staging of the play by director Marcus March which also allude to the theme of manipulation and the idea that all is not as it seems. Examples include the book being read by Henderson as he doubts Howard’s identity and the choice of song hummed by Hall as she becomes entranced by a new relationship.
Although issues of mental health are portrayed sensitively and truthfully by Hall, the production becomes a little heavy handed and cliched in its use of voice over to suggest hospitalisation and schizophrenic symptoms.
Although it seems to lose some direction and could do with tightening up towards the end, overall the play is funny and touching with great performances. It certainly could merit future runs in more venues at the end of its current engagement.
Mites plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre until the 26th October. Tickets available here - https://www.actorscentre.co.uk/theatre/mites
Review by Tiffany Louise Clark