A prince called Jason. A jacket that sparkles. A death.
‘Moonfleece’ (dir. Ash Strain and Abbie Darrah) is a play about a group of people from different backgrounds coming together to conduct a séance for a man that inextricably links them all together. While the play’s events are caused by and correlate with the rise of a powerful fascist group, the politics are placed on a back burner in favour of showcasing something much closer to the chest: humanity. A play about sexuality, grief, guilt, and the power of fairy tales, ‘Moonfleece’ is a love letter to the downtrodden, and the gritty heart of Philip Ridley’s original script is ever-beating in the Minotaur drama group’s production.
The set: one decrepit, stained wall with a gaping doorway and a political banner falling down from its strings. A worn armchair. A mattress on the floor, with a rumpled sleeping bag. Later, a table. Dusty chairs. A soul, or two, or eight. Remnants of a community. Evocative storytelling through the bare minimum.
Above all, the play’s heart lies within its characters, and there were notable bright sparks within the eleven-strong cast; Link (Rebekah Smith) is spunky and snarky, with a penchant for talking back and a particular brand of raised-eyebrow cynicism, has the most self-explanatory name, and brings the group together, bridging the gap between storyteller and listener. Librarian-cum-psychic Nina (Jess Lester) also strikes a chord, contributing sardonic ditz to what could have been an incredibly tense series of events had there been none of her humour.
The story approaches the fairy tale as a form of escapism, and ‘Moonfleece’ delicately balances reality with story, weaving a catastrophic event into digestible fiction. Clever manipulation of lighting casts a blue haze onto an elaborately told fairy tale, a story containing “blue lips” and a “blue lagoon”, melancholic and ephemeral, particularly apt with the lighting decision.
Over the interval, a discordant mashup of proclamations is played as the audience filters out and into the studio again. Featuring audio from voices such as current prime minister Boris Johnson, and climate activist Greta Thunberg, it imbues the politically charged story with a higher electric undercurrent, placing it a decade later into the present, reminding us that the political and social fights in the play are still prevalent now.
The pacing isn’t perfect, and the mood of the scene violently swings between warm and tense. Whether it was first-night jitters, or just a group of actors still finding their collective feet, there were instances of odd, too-long silences, or lines jumping on top of each other in forgotten haste. However, considering the story of ‘Moonfleece’, and its relationship with the messy truths of being human, it can get away with being a little unpolished.
Tender and feral. Isolating and bracing. Gritty, slick. Old haunts bathed in blue-tinged moonlight. ‘Moonfleece’ casts light onto ugly humanity, but somewhere in the process, comes to celebrate it, too.