I have a self-professed weakness for inventive staging. Many Moons’ four-sided, two-tiered staging leaves the actors with nowhere to hide: even when, as I’m about to find, the characters most want to. Despite the minor number of blind-spots – as to be expected – the monologues are delivered convincingly to every angle, making the entire audience complicit in the secrets which are shared. The lighting and soundscapes, though used minimally, contribute to a wonderful sense of awe; a stuck-down sigil in the centre of the stage works as an effective axis, and I’m particularly impressed with the movement direction (managed by Tilly Hadcock and Luke Wintour). At times I wish these elements could be used further: but to do so would detract from the beautiful minimalism of the standalone speeches.
It takes a great stage-presence to remain onstage for a whole 90 minutes – then to command the stage alone when thrust into the limelight – but each actor is thoroughly compelling, even with the density of the text. Sam Scruton as Ollie plods through his text at a measured pace, voice perennially raised, inhabiting an awkward and strangely affable persona with ease. Abby McCann as the lonely mother Meg, though initially confusing, warms into her character convincingly as her arc becomes more defined. Two of her speeches leave a lasting impression far beyond the theatre; a pertinent diatribe regarding social media feels unquestionably relevant, while in another I see genuine tears. Henry Wyard is fantastic at portraying the shaking brokenness of Robert – with one of the most startlingly confessional performances I have seen this year – while Mati Warner’s Juniper provides a just-visible complexity beneath her very welcome breeziness.
Alice Birch’s script is harder to comes to terms with. On the one hand it is beautifully lyrical: there’s a wonderful poetry to the lines, with fantastic imagery – “I have mapped out the heavens through the constellations with those glow in the dark stars on every bedroom ceiling I’ve had since I was eight” – and startlingly natural humour – anecdotes regarding snakebites and Urban Outfitters get a knowing laugh from the audience. Each of the four monologues is given its own space to inhabit, never drawn-out or rushed. This is a play about connections – or the lack thereof – and the way in which each character approaches one another and moves apart again, ever so gently, gets to the heart of this more than any other.
Then the narrative develops, and everything becomes – for want of a better phrase – thoroughly unpleasant. It’s true there are content warnings before the show – warnings I perhaps should have paid more attention to – but they somehow don’t quite capture the sheer graphic moroseness which develops (even if the suggestions are, rather horrifyingly, always present). One particularly graphic scene makes me actively flinch in my seat, and I leave the theatre with the suggestion of tears in my eyes: just from the sheer overwhelming nature of it all.
It’s not the show which was promised at the start, a tale of wonderful interconnection and our orbiting around one another, even though an end scene at the local fair brings everyone together in a powerful amalgamation. It’s a story which shatters our trust in one another and leaves us feeling hollow. This doesn’t make the production itself any less powerful, nor does it detract from the wonderful individual performances: there’s certainly a lot to fall in love with here.
Birch’s script is big on empathy, but it doesn’t provide solutions. Instead, having raised the questions, we are left with a double cliff-hanger: one which offers no hope, no resolution, and a decent level of discomfort. Theatre, of course, should be provocative, and should raise questions which are as of yet unanswered: but it’s a lot for a weekday night, so just be sure you want to be challenged first.