Writer: Catherine Lucie
Director: Blythe Stewart
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
How much do you trust your own judgement, and how sure can you be that your recollection of events is the right one? Memory is a subjective thing, not only shaped by individual perception but also by subsequent repetition and retelling, so over time what we remember becomes little more than a bank of stories we’ve convinced ourselves are true. So, when a witness makes a statement about a serious crime with no other evidence, it’s difficult to make a case, especially when the whole thing might be a dream.
Catherine Lucie’s new play The Moor imagines that exact scenario as lonely young mother Bronagh makes a serious accusation against her own boyfriend after a boozy night out. Returning from a friend’s birthday party in the early hours a furious and drunk Graeme has a bitter row with his girlfriend. The next day a young traveller goes missing and Bronagh begins to remember fragments of a frightening dream that could be more than her imagination.
Lucie’s play combines elements of domestic drama with suspense to create an interesting tale about the mind’s ability to play tricks on you. Through the central relationship between Graeme and Bronagh, Lucie explores the line between memory and fantasy, using lapses created by extreme alcohol intake alongside blurred ideas of reality and fiction, to think about how easily suggestible the human mind can be.
As the stories narrator and lynchpin, the character of Bronagh is extremely well drawn, and in Jill McAusland’s excellent performance, becomes a convincing and sympathetic storyteller. Initially her sweetness draws the audience in, fearing for her violent domestic situation while pitying a young woman in a mundane trap of a life. But McAusland slowly introduces the idea of Bronagh as an unreliable source, her increasingly desperate need to tell her story becoming a fixation that casts doubt on the veracity of her version of events.
This uncertainty is one of The Moor’s best features, ensuring that the viewer is never quite sure who is responsible, and Lucie throws in some interesting if rather melodramatic twists in the final section of the play. However, the middle section focuses largely on police interviews which, although necessary to the plot, repeat information the audience already knows from other scenes. Procedurally authentic it may be, but it does slow down the unfolding drama.
Similarly, the shouty and vicious Graeme feels rather thin against the greater range and emphasis placed on Bronagh’s experience, designed to be a contrast or catalyst for her development rather than a fully-fleshed-out person in his own right. Oliver Britten makes Graeme physically imposing and emotionally manipulative, but in the Old Red Lion’s tiny theatre space the violence seems held back. There could be more to say about Graeme’s own feeling of limitation, of the frustrations that lead to his physical outbursts.
Jonny Magnanti’s Policeman Pat is presented as a pseudo-father-figure, conveying plenty of kindly authority, but again there are aspects of his backstory, his relationship with Bronagh’s mother, that could be better explored. The local moor is well integrated into the story as a fourth character whose physical and superstitious influence hangs over the characters, driving their behaviour and adding to the danger of their situation.
Holly Piggott’s corrugated painted plastic design creates an idea of rugged landscapes and allows director Blythe Stewart to maintain a flow between scenes. The tension dips at various points, undermining the intention to present The Moor as a psychological thriller, but a little less repetition and fuller characterisation of the male roles will bolster this interesting examination of truth and memory.
Runs until: 3 March 2018 | Image: The Other Richard