On Friday evening I thought I was going to see a production of Philip Ridley’s Moonfleece by an amateur group of student performers. Ironically, by coming along with a preconceived idea of what to expect, I was actually embodying one of the key themes of the play: preconceptions will bite you in the ass.
Instead of a bunch of amateurs trying their best, I was confronted by an emotional, provocative performance by a group of extremely capable actors. The cast, along with the production team, have clearly invested their hearts and souls in this play, bringing relevance to the truth this tale of racism, homophobia, memory and truth deserves.
The set is stark and bleak, resonant of an East End tower block worthy of a Billy Bragg song and you can almost smell the dereliction. Clearly the intention is to derive maximum impact from the text.
Ciaran Searle’s competent direction of the cast made the most of the dark humour of the challenging script. His perceptive interpretation is well served by a cast of intelligent and bold actors.
Michael Woods gave us an engaging and weirdly likeable Gavin. He delivered an introduction which set the tone by using humour as a veil which only lightly blurred the edges of the potentially distasteful material. Woods’ accent and vocal delivery were spot on.
It’s a talented actor who can make you smile as their character is being a bombastic proponent of the all too topical “Make England Great Again” ethos. Both Woods & the equally impressive Liam Boardman (Tommy) gave us this throughout the evening. I loved the thinly veiled eroticism between Curtis and Tommy, a brilliant juxtaposition that highlighted the hypocrisy of these right wing ruffians.
Laura Harper embodies a feisty and believable Alex who pairs wonderfully with the witty, delightful Jez (Sean Lydiard).
Just as we think the group of characters cannot get any more eclectic, in swoops Nina, carried on a cloud of eau de toilette scented psychic iridescence. Freddy Thornton’s comic timing is on point and she flirts her way deliciously throughout her characterisation of Nina. Initially we assume is she is a quack but Thornton’s nuanced performance delves into Nina’s hidden depths. This is an actress with a gift for insight. For those in the audience who leapt to judge this character, a spot of ass biting, again.
Moonfleece is a play that raises deeply relevant political issues. It is serendipitous that Dramasoc have staged this just as the right wing populist UK Independence Party (UKIP) finds itself in the headlines for its anti-immigration comments and conservative stance on LGBT issues.
Whilst Rheanna Walsh & Sam Gibson give sensitivity and emotion to Sarah and Curtis, their delivery and diction is sometimes a little unclear, and this would benefit from some attention.
I wonder about the choice of using smoke on the set; my companion and I found it distracting and spent too much time trying to figure out why it was there.
I would have liked to have seen the actors make better use of the space available to them, particularly through an exploration of varying levels during the crucial story telling scene. By positioning some listeners lolling on the floor or leaning against chairs, a more powerful tableau of a spellbound roomful of people could have been created, giving Zak’s (Josiah Morgan) enthralling and emotional delivery the focus it deserved. Morgan delivers the truth that Curtis is desperate to hear, peppered with the utterly fantastical and we are enthralled. A stand out performance for me, emotional, raw and we were transfixed.
I would have liked Kyra Looman (Link) to have delivered some of her lovely, moving interjections to the fairy tale from the ground level so as not to detract too much from the bard, but this is a small critique. Looman gives us range and her opening gaucheness contrasts wonderfully with her closing sensitivity.
I do however take issue with Ridley’s superfluous tale of Banger the dachshund, however charmingly told by Freya Searle. We were both entranced and awestruck by Morgan’s compelling tale and the production would have flowed much more naturally to have had us brought back down to earth gently by the closing scene between Sarah & Curtis.
This is an all too real depiction of a slice of life in Britain which we see playing out internationally on the world stage. Dramasoc sent me home impressed and thoughtful and whilst there were no happily ever afters for Ridley’s characters, we got truth, humour and gritty realism.
“This is the future I see” says Gavin emphatically, of his political ideologies.
Well, this is the future I see of Christchurch theatre, and it makes my future a whole lot brighter than yours, ’mate’.