THE MOORS - MELBOURNE
THE MOORS, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, 10 June-9 July 2017. Photography by Teresa Noble: above - Zoe Boesen and Alex Aldrich; below l-r: Alex Aldrich, Dion Mills, Anna McCarthy and Zoe Boesen
The Moors by Jen Silverman is an exciting, mind-bending, funny and at times morally moribund piece of writing. and it’s fantastically well directed by Stephen Nicolazzo. This is the kind of theatre experience that I love; a quirky and inspired kind of gothic romance.
With overtones and an environment of the Bronte sisters, it is set on the bleak and savage moors – one daren’t venture too far from the Manse: who knows what perils lie waiting out there amid the quick sands.
Elder sister Agatha (Alex Aldrich) is hard, practical, no nonsense and with an, ahem, hidden desire. She runs the house with an iron hand. Her younger sister Hudley (Anna McCarthy) is full of youthful fantasy yet has a desperate need to be noticed. She and her daily journal let us in on the comings and goings of the household. In the absence upstairs of brother Branwell (shades of Mrs Rochester?) the only male to be seen is an unloved dog, The Mastiff (Dion Mills), who is desperate for a companion.
Into this feverish night a governess, Emilie, arrives (Zoe Boesen), mandolin in hand, ready for…governing, having been brought to the moors through correspondence with Branwell whom she believes to be the head of the house and with a young child in need of her care. But there is coyness and deflection of her questions from Agatha and her disquiet is momentarily set aside when asked to show off her musical skills. Expecting a lilting verse from the period, we’re presented instead with a brilliant rendition of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”!
Tired from her journey and the lack of answers to her question of “where is Branwell?” Emilie is ushered to her room. But it’s the parlour and she understandably experiences more disquiet as she tries to grasp why she isn’t given a bedroom. She is led to her “room” by the parlour maid Marjory (Grace Lowry) who is also the scullery maid, Mallory. Double identities are always fun when one is tired, bewildered and the heights are wuthering.
We learn that the correspondence which drew Emilie to the moors was more than a perfunctory exchange of employment letters but instead, were full of flirtation. And Emilie, with her body and mind ready to be ravished, has come to the crumbling manse with more than governessing in her sights. Branwell however, has brought shame to the family and has been incarcerated in the attic; the lusty letters were composed by elder sister Agatha.
In a beautifully conceived sub-plot, The Mastiff – keen for companionship – finds it with a moor-hen (Olga Makeeva). The moor-hen attempts to maintain some space between them, pointing out that the dog is born to eat the likes of hens. It doesn’t bode well for the bird.
Meanwhile, younger sister, Hudley, still longing to be seen, is jealous: the governess pays her no mind. Through enticement by Marjory the maid she plots the demise of her sister – not so much to have her die but for the notoriety of being seen. She writes her own best-selling song “Hudley’s Ballad” – in reality this is truly special in a cappella performance.
The cleverly conceived play pulls together mystery, excitement, loathing and contempt. It is about love, desperation, and recognition. And the strength of women; the needs of men being relegated to that of sperm donors. The performers are terrific, a true ensemble. I loved their hands, their gestures; the mastiff’s paws, the moor-hen’s knowing. Nicolazzo has an eye for detail and an understanding of the absurd.
The set (Eugyeene Teh) is simple – a dark curtained box with the exterior denoted by spotlighting with a haze effect, as if it were raining or misty. The room changes are performed with the entrances and exits of Mallory/Marjory. The lighting design (Katie Sfetkidis) is important for delineation from inside to outside and to the eerie from the everyday and it worked well as did the sound design from Daniel Nixon.
The costume design, also by Teh, is perfection: the elder sister in high-necked, bland, bell-shaped crinoline, her younger sister in a freer style; the governess all light and virginal. On the other side of the species divide, the moor-hen’s black crinoline and The Mastiff’s bare breasted dinner suit worked a treat.
This is an accomplished piece of theatre: brilliant, even. It is a must see.