The Hope Theatre has staged a coup in hosting the first UK production of Jen Silverman’s The Moors. The play may be bizarre in places, but it is never dull. Phil Bartlett directs the show with ingenuity and precision. The play toys with certain tropes of 19th century literature (a figure in the attic, a repressed governess, wild moors, a bloody crime) to produce a narrative with more twists and turns than a spiral staircase.
One of the stars of the production doesn’t appear on stage. Sophia Pardon has created a wonderful set, both minimalistic and gothic. The setting is as gloomy as a forecast from the OBR. Style and colour are added through Pardon’s pitch perfect costume design. The elegant lines of the outfits are equal to some of the elegant lines in the dialogue – and the Mastiff’s garb is as ragged as his mind. If Pardon isn’t in great demand already, she will be after this. A nod should also be given to the crew who developed the eerie music and sound effects. The wind howled on the moors, like it had just found out the price of a pint in a London pub.
At the core of the play is a commanding performance, by Imogen Mackenzie, of the commanding character of Miss Agatha. As discordant a figure as Agatha may be, she binds the narrative together. Her clipped phrases are as sharp as her outfit. Mackenzie is not afraid to be an anti-hero (albeit her unpleasantness is also tinged with a sense of longing and loneliness). Her iciness warmed this reviewer’s heart.
There are a number of noteworthy performances, however. Tamara Fairbairn, who plays the maid, delivers a scowl that could curdle milk – and provides some neat comic touches. Meredith Lewis, playing Emilie, ably portrays being unhinged – before becoming a mistress of her own fate. Kenia Fenton gives a barnstorming song at the end, which allows her to let loose her vocals chords and dance moves.
As much as the play may be considered strange or dark it is also fun in plenty of places. The black comedy is laced with some philosophical musings too, which will prompt the audience to think about the performance long after the final act. The world may be a lonely place – but it can be less lonely when with someone. And if love exists in this world, it is as rare as moor-hen’s teeth.
The Moors is on at The Hope Theatre until 5th November.
Richard Foreman is the author of The First Crusade.