Writer: J. Meade Falkner
Adaptor: Stephanie Dale
Music: Tim Laycock
Director: Kim Durham
Reviewer: Michelle Grady
First published in 1898, this classic smuggling tale by English novelist J. Meade Falkner has remained a popular yarn, no doubt thanks to its gripping plot twists and the moral message it has at its core, which is played out through the trials and tribulations of young orphan John Trenchard. This is something of a coming-of-age tale, in which our hero contends with secretive smugglers, haunted crypts and hidden treasure, yet never forgets that home – the Dorset town of Moonfleet – is where the heart is.
Full of the exuberance and curiosity of youth, Trenchard is endlessly intrigued about the mysterious Bluebeard, who, as local legend has it, is said to have stolen a diamond from King Charles I and hidden it; folklore says he wanders at night searching for this prized jewel. When the village is flooded, the townsfolk hear a knocking coming from the church cellar; believing this to be the foretold ghost of Bluebeard, John ventures down to investigate, only to find that he has wandered into a smugglers’ den run by Elzevir Block, who is also the landlord of the local tavern, the Why Not? Inn. John gets stuck in the cellar, passes out and wakes up in the Why Not? after being taken in by Elzevir and his gang.A treasure hunt, dramatic cliff-top climb and prison stay ensue, yet all the while John never forgets his beloved Moonfleet, or his love for Grace.
The story has echoes of Jean Valjean’s criminal-come-good tale in Les Miserables; in Moonfleet, you similarly root for the lawbreakers rather than the lawmakers. The cast do a sterling job of making this so – Phil Dunster has great presence as John’s mentor Elzevir, bringing authority and weight to the rôle, yet also a gentleness and nobility that means we admire him as much as John does. Perry Moore does a great job at projecting John’s youthful innocence, energy and enthusiasm; when Patrick Tolan later picks up the rôle as an older John, he adds a wiser edge that reflects John’s ordeal, while still retaining the character’s original hopefulness and vigour.
Other notable performances come from Nicola-Maria Taggart, who brings sweetness and light to the character of Grace – as well as a lovely singing voice – and Elzevir’s loyal friend Ratsey, played with a quiet charisma by Sean Mulkerrin. The simple yet ingenious set design by Andrea Montag deserves a mention too; its sets the scene yet allows the viewers’ imagination to run wild, much like the original novel. Moonfleet is full of action, adventure, humour and heart, and the hard-working cast and crew from the Old Vic Theatre School bring this classic novel alive on stage with authenticity and charm.