Writer: Keisha Thompson
Director: Benji Reid
Reviewer: Lizz Clark
Keisha Thompson is an astonishing writer and performer. It’s not so much the poetic phrases and star-gazing metaphors that pepper her solo piece, Man on the Moon – though these are plentiful. It’s the delicate way that she handles big issues like mental health, family, and black identity so that these broad themes become touchingly personal. Structured around a heart-thumping journey to visit the father she hasn’t seen in months, Keisha’s story explores the ways that family and society can leave someone behind.
The stage is littered with books, some piled up impossibly high. Keisha’s father, who left when she was a child, communicates with her by popping books through her letterbox. He’s a Black British convert to Islam who rants about the apocalypse and leaves her cryptic notes. But when even this disjointed communication trails off between the pair, Keisha feels a gravitational pull, a need to visit him and make sure he’s OK.
All the while, she’s reliving old family stories and fragments of memory. Her father isn’t the only relative who struggles to stay in touch with reality, and at times, we even wonder whether Keisha herself is losing perspective. But her fondness for numerology and space-walking flights of fancy aren’t just signs of superstition – they are the language she uses to talk to her dad. When mental illness, social isolation, and past abuse get in the way of a ‘normal’ parent-child relationship, it’s only through these unconventional means that Keisha can find meaning and connection.
This is a story about finding the cracks in a wall to whisper through – about unconventional ways of communicating against the odds. So, as well as poetry and metaphor, Keisha speaks in music. The looped sounds she sings with are pre-created, so we don’t get the joy of watching the loop build up in real time, but Keisha’s vocal performance is stunning, combining technical ability with understated emotion.
That skill and subtlety is there throughout. Thompson is a magnetic performer who gives us everything, from sarcastic irritability to inner grief to poignant confusion. She’s effortlessly funny, sometimes with as little as a look. And her comments on the daily reality of Black British life, from wondering why a stranger just called her ‘sister’ to negotiations with white Social Services workers, are important reminders of the way race intersects with every other issue.
It’s immensely powerful to see such a personal narrative told from within: the dramatic, poetic and musical elements, which might have had a distancing effect, in fact only heighten the sense of connection with Keisha’s experience. When the final set-piece of the show unfolds in a curious stellar journey, aided by an unexpected trick of Jim Bond’s excellent set, it’s vulnerable and true whilst also being entirely fantastical. Man on the Moon is a remarkable achievement – a vivid personal story that resonates with so many wider themes without losing its touching specificity.
Runs until 25th November 2017 | Image: Contributed