Writer: Philip Ridley
Director: Max Harrison
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
In our more divisive times, it has become easier to make wide-ranging assumptions about people based on their politics. Lazy stereotypes abound which make it easier to categorise people, establishing ideas of “us” and “them” separating the liberals from the radicals. A revival of Philip Ridley’s 2010 play Moonfleece at the Pleasance Theatre is a timely reminder that the attraction of extremist politics can stem from ordinary human needs.
In a derelict flat now occupied by squatters, Curtis has gathered a group of friends to remember his kindly elder brother Jason. Memories of their happy childhood and the death of their father come flooding back as he stalks the rooms of his former home. Now embroiled in a far-right political group led by his stepfather Mr Avalon, and convinced he’s seen Jason’s ghost, Curtis must adjust his vision of the past to find the truth.
Ridley’s play, and its focus on understanding the family obligations and relatively small encounters that drive people to form unpalatable views, remains highly pertinent. Under the direction of Max Harrison, this new production highlights the complexity of thought and feeling that create a sense of disassociation from societal norms, that takes hold of the individual in a desire for security and clarity in a rapidly changing society.
The character of Curtis, played with intelligence and compassion by James Downie, is the embodiment of Ridley’s themes, thwarted by a double tragedy and scooped-up by a political party that gave structure and sense to the chaos of his grief. Downie shuns caricature and offers a moving portrayal of a young man realigning his view of the world as his surety gives way.
Throughout, Ridley argues that individual and collective history shapes who we are, so many of the conversations are either reflecting on events that have coloured Curtis’ views, or discuss a nostalgic past full of fun fairs and contentment. Downie uses all of that to subtly demonstrate how much this gathering means to Curtis, bringing a stillness to the performance that implies a well of emotion below the surface. As he finally hears the truth, his whole being transforms from shock to pain and distress conveyed in the smallest gestures. Downie gives a contained and meaningful performance that lifts the entire production.
However, Moonfleece suffers from far too many secondary characters, and with very little to do some slightly overegg their parts which unbalances the show. There are lots of throw-away references that amount to very little including a hint that Curtis’ friend Tommy is in love with him but cannot admit it, that neighbour Alex is in love with Curtis’ ex-girlfriend Sarah and thus hates Curtis, and that the Avalon family are much shadier than we know. Throw-in an unlikely séance and a somewhat contrived connection between the squatters and the family, and there is a lot of surrounding noise that could be dialled down a fraction.
Kit Hinchcliffe’s traverse design creates a convincingly run-down flat without heading too far into cliché, a once respectable working-class home in disrepair. Having the audience on both sides is a pointed reminder of our fascination with observing extreme political behaviour and the media coverage it continues to elicit.
There’s plenty of comedy to enjoy in Moonfleece with Natalie Johnson as Stacey and Adaline Waby as Nina in particular making the most of their small roles to break-up the tension. What could have been an overtly political production, generates a genuine emotional and sympathetic conclusion. Lifted by a particularly sensitive central performance, this version of Ridley’s play looks at how extreme views are formed and why they continue to grow.
Runs until 15 April 2018 | Image: Contributed