Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Moors, June 11, 2017 ***

Written by Jen Silverman, Red Stitch Actors Theatre 
At Red Stitch, until July 9, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Sunday June 11, 2017 
 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Tues June 13, 2017 and later in print. KH
 The Moors_Zoe Boesen_Alex Aldrich
 The Moors, by American playwright Jen Silverman, is a twisted version of a 19th century, English gothic romance blended with a modern black comedy and inspired by the lives and writings of the Brönte sisters.

In an isolated mansion on the bleak, wild moors of England, two eccentric sisters, Agatha (Alex Aldrich) and Huldey (Anna McCarthy), live with only their giant, Mastiff dog (Dion Mills), their maid (Grace Lowry) and their strangely absent brother, Branwell – until Emilie (Zoe Boesen), the pretty governess, arrives to break the monotony.

Stephen Nicolazzo’s atmospheric production draws on the style of melodrama and creepy horror movies, and its empty, black stage draped with dreary olive and black curtains, combined with the predominantly black costumes (set and costume, Eugyeene Teh) and spooky, floating mist, emphasises the gloomy lives of the sisters.

Silverman’s script satirises the sinister elements of the gothic horror genre, and teases the audience with the sexual tension and lust, power and subservience, despair and hope expressed by the various characters.

After the governess arrives, the grim secrets, perverse plans and barely masked desires of the occupants of the mansion are slowly revealed.

Aldrich is compelling and clearly understands the style of Nicolazzo’s production, effectively depicting the controlling, embittered sister, Agatha, with rigid physicality, a superior demeanour and a weird, cold power and sensuality that she uses to seduce the young governess.

McCarthy is childlike and otherworldly in her portrayal of Agatha’s submissive and miserable sister, Huldey, who is a romantic fantasist labouring under the fanciful misconception that she is a famous author – just like the Brönte sisters.

Boesen’s copper-haired governess provides a colourful and optimistic foil to the relentless misery and pessimism of the householders, and her final transformation from subordinate to mistress of the house is satisfying.

In a curious side plot, Mills’ depressed and lonely Mastiff falls in love with the Moor-Hen (Olga Makeeva), a sweet little bird that breaks its leg and must rely on the huge, scary dog to protect it.

Outlandish as this side narrative is, the acting skills of Mills and Makeeva make it is strangely engaging, with Mills’ Mastiff spouting philosophical and romantic monologues about depression and love, while Makeeva charms the audience as the dim-witted Moor-Hen who is wiser than we might think.

This parody runs out of steam after about an hour in this two-hour show, but Silverman’s play and Nicolazzo’s production are quirky and entertaining, and it is probably even more diverting for fans of the Bröntes.

By Kate Herbert
 The Moors_Dion Mills_Olga Makeeva
The Moors_Alex Aldrich_Dion Mills_Anna McCarthy_Zoe Boesen

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