To be sure, in fiction, the setting of Moors is a potent, powerful one. Sherlock Holmes ran all over them in Baskerville; The ghost of Catherine haunts them in Emily Brontë’s, Wuthering Heights. But, while serious routes have been plotted, this production of The Moors has more in common with The Mystery of Irma Vep, albeit with some fantastic surrealism thrown in.
Eugyeene Teh’s design is magnificent, both in costumes but also in framing the action within a large silk-curtained box. What could be well-lit parlour games has been turned inward and the lights turned down a notch. It’s like the Red Room from the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks, but here instead we have a polished emerald green. In many ways, the action and characters behave in that endearing, off-kilter Lynch-fashion, lead primarily by Agatha played by Alex Aldrich.
As loathe as I am to use this word, Alex’s performance backs you into a corner without much of an alternative other than use it: Precise. There was such precision and discipline in her voice and body, that as other characters deferred to Agatha, they appear buffeted, waves breaking on the rocks. It made Agatha’s relationship with Emilie, played by Zoe Boesen, lift in tension and stakes. Emilie undergoes a compelling transformation, that Zoe plays majestically throughout, showing by the end not a reflection but instead a striking image of manifest destiny.
Anna McCarthy was a delight as Agatha’s sister, Hudley, as too was Grace Lowry as the maid, Marjory/Mallory. It would be simple to play these characters for guffaws only, but Anna and Grace have resisted the easy laughs, instead building two unique, witty performances that engaged and entertained.
Running in tangent to the brooding quirk and menace of the goings-on inside the manor is a wee parable outside on the moors. Dion Mills plays The Mastiff, the family dog slash philosopher, who when not hunting has larger questions about his status and purpose in the world. A moorhen, played by Olga Makeeva, falls to Earth. The dog tends to her as best he can.
However, the harder he tries to be good to her, the more she gets nervous and is aware of the behaviour expected of a hunting dog coming across a downed bird in an open field. There are promises made, in a series of wonderful scenes by Dion and Olga, but there is also increasing trepidation as to how their story will conclude, her body increasingly on the mend, soon being able to fly up and away.
It’s a terrific script by Jen Silverman, doing that lovely tripwire walk of being familiar yet utterly original. It wears its influences on its sleeve. We have Aesop’s Fable, The Farmer and the Viper; We have the matriarch ascending from Pinter’s, The Homecoming; the stark descriptions and evocations from characters of the moors not unlike Susan Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black; with a good dollop of straight-faced ludicrousness all the way from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. However, this shouldn’t give an impression of the script as a literary Frankenstein’s monster – rather what this production by Red Stitch proves to be by the end: a beautifully crafted, funny and clever show.
Red Stitch Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East
Performance: Saturday 10 June 2017 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 9 July 2017
Information and Bookings: www.redstitch.net
Image: Alex Aldrich, Dion Mills, Anna McCarthy and Zoe Boesen in The Moors – photo by Teresa Noble
Review: David Collins