Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester 13 April 2017 to 22 April 2017
Adolescence is a period of heightened emotions, which makes it particularly fertile ground for drama. This is exploited to maximum effect in Ransack Theatre’s blazing production of Declan Greene’s Moth.
Teenager Sebastian (Alistair Michael) is not popular in his school. His lungs are failing; he is prone to seizures and has poor personal hygiene. He is also a magnet for bullies and, after a particularly vicious attack, experiences a vision that convinces him Saint Sebastian has been reincarnated as a moth and has predicted the coming of the Apocalypse. Sebastian’s sole friend and fellow outcast Claryssa (Charlotte Gascoyne) worries that he has become convinced it is his destiny to bring about the catastrophe.
Declan Greene’s fascinating twisting-turning script filters events through the consciousness of his characters to the extent that it is hard to determine what is real or imagined. There is the sense of the characters play-acting like children – describing rather than experiencing the events – as Sebastian and Claryssa comment on actions and express their reluctance to think about some of them.
The production benefits from a talented cast who actually look young enough to convince as teenagers. Charlotte Gascoyne makes a wonderful outcast; ferociously projecting the image of someone who is ostracised by choice. Gascoyne pushes Claryssa’s aggression to the point where the character seems almost feral. One of the terrible things about being bullied is that the victim sometimes starts to submit to, and even seems to become complicit in, the process. Bravely Alistair Michael denies Sebastian any redeeming features, making him a childish, petty person and thoroughly irritating. It has an alienating effect of putting the audience in the position of the bully - thinking that Sebastian deserves to suffer and feeling ashamed afterwards. It is a performance that is hard to watch, for all the right reasons.
Moths are attracted by lights and, appropriately, Matt Leventhall’s lighting – neon strips hanging haphazardly over the audience and startlingly dazzling lights at either end of the stage – help to set the disconcerting atmosphere for the play.
And what an atmosphere it is – director Piers Black-Hawkins creates the mood of a full-on horror show. Frankie Bradshaw’s set transforms Hope Mill Theatre into a football field, but one in which the line markings are garish day-glo colours and feature blips that resemble signals on a heart monitor.
Black-Hawkins constantly reinforces the emotional turmoil of the characters. Scene changes are not peaceful but are accompanied by violent blasts of white noise, sending the characters reeling in torment. Although lighting is a vital element Black-Hawkins makes excellent use of unexpected blackouts. The overall effect is to create a nightmarish mood of adolescent angst – when Claryssa takes to her bed, her depression is so great that she is buried under a duvet the size of the stage.
Moth is a strongly performed and stunningly staged production from a very impressive company.
Reviewer: David Cunningham