FRINGE theatre may be struggling financially but it still has the capacity to pack a fine punch judging by The Moor, a new ambitious play from Catherine Lucie at The Old Red Lion Theatre in London’s Islington.
A psychological thriller, The Moor explores the blurred lines between truth, lies, fantasy, dreams and memory. Lines so confused that at times it is all a little hard to follow but it just about works, in big part as a result of a stellar performance from Jill McAusland who does not leave the stage for the entire 75 minutes.
Her Bronagh, the heartbeat of the play, is vulnerable and ultimately mad as a box of frogs. She believes there are elves out on the moor where she lives (thanks Mum) and looks throughout as if she is going to cry at any moment. She also has an impressive singing voice.
The clever set, all darkness, mist and painted moors on corrugated sheets, perpetuates the sense of creepiness and eeriness – and heightens her fragility.
It is Bronagh who has most of the ’issues’. She lives in a small dark house on the moor that she inherited from her mother. She has a three month old child and is in an abusive relationship with Graeme (Oliver Britten), an individual with a petty criminal record and a split personality. He towers over Bronagh with his intimidating physical presence.
Little and large. Abused and abuser. Or are they are both abuser and abused?
One moment, Graeme is charm personified, doting over the baby and telling Bronagh how much he loves her. The next, he is aggressive and occasionally violent. He is also prone to drinking too much and committing acts he cannot remember the next morning.
The play is built around the disappearance of a ‘gypsy’ that Bronagh was speaking to at a party arranged for Graeme’s best friend. Although she was drunk at the time, she is convinced that Graeme attacked the gypsy in a fit of jealousy after the party. She claims she saw the attack from her house – the gypsy walking to her home to return a purse she had lost at the party.
When Graeme is interviewed the next day by the police for drug dealing, Bronagh meets Pat (Jonny Magnanti), a policeman who knew her mother when she was alive – so well indeed that Bronagh used to call him Uncle (is he in fact her father?)
She then begins to feed Pat drips of information that put Graeme firmly in the frame for the gypsy’s disappearance. Yet there is obviously something not quite right with sweet innocent Bronagh. Did she really see anything that night from the house? Did she actually make love to the gypsy in her front room as she later claims? Can she really smell the gypsy on the red scarf Pat has in an evidence bag within his briefcase? The pieces of the jigsaw just do not fit together. Is it all about revenge on the bullying Graeme?
It all ends rather messily with a suicide and incarceration within a mental institution.
The Moor is both powerful and eminently watchable. McAusland is the star amid the gloom and doom but both Britten and Magnanti provide excellent support. You certainly would not want to meet Graeme out on the moor after he has had a skinful – and you would not want to be in a relationship with him. For that matter, you just would not want him in your life.
Holly Pigott does wonders with the set in such a confined space. Anna Clock’s sound and music is haunting while Jamie Platt’s non-existent lighting (hugely effective) ramps up the psychological element. Add in Blythe Stewart’s efficient directing and the result is a thought provoking evening out.
What was fact? What was pure fantasy? I am still not quite sure twenty four hours on (and probably never will work it all out) but what I do know for certain is that The Moor is well worth watching. Bring the night vision goggles.
It plays until March 3.