It’s strange to call a play involving the death of a child, suicide, and self-imposed isolation sweet.
But that’s the most apt description of Moonless, and it’s an ambiguous one. ‘Sweet’ is generally not a theatrical aspiration. Perhaps, given the subject matter in Moonless, this is quite an achievement, particularly as it is rather well-made.
Micia de Wet as the outsider artists (she sculpts) who chooses to cut herself off from society by refusing to speak and living as a hermit in the wilderness, is a magnetic performer who seems to have a natural bent for the physical demands of clowning. The set with its floor of loose paper sheets is intriguing, offering multiple possibilities, some of which are put to use.
The animated drawings projected on the back wall, and the moments of synchronisation with the performers draw our attention without overwhelming the stage despite the screen’s looming presence, and Gopala Davies as the grief-stricken father improves as he settles in to his role.
Yet Moonless fails to get below the surface. It has the substance of a reflection, its light fails to penetrate.
Puzzling over why this is, Occam’s razor leads me to the script. With one character mute, the lack of dialogue is an obstacle to poetic discourse and the revelation of deeper layers of character, but not an impassable one; clowning and non-verbal performance has the ability to reach deep into our emotional landscape and lead us into deep waters. Many artists have proven this.
Which brings us to the relationship between the grief-stricken man and the mute woman, the arc of which remains rather shallow. Although the impossible passes between them, they remain largely cut off from each other, preoccupied with their own despair, which is perhaps why I felt cut-off from them.
But what really keeps it at the level of ‘sweet’ despite all the elements in its favour, is the surfeit of whimsy, played out both in the storyline and the acting, and best symbolised by the large cluster of red helium-filled balloons taking up a significant corner of the stage. They do nothing, are not referred to and seem to only be there to look pretty. The only other possible reason for their inclusion – and this requires digging deeper than should be necessary – might be to signify the red horizon created by a never visible sun.
It is one line buried in the story revealing the geographical place the characters find themselves is the only one in the southern hemisphere that never sees the sun. A line pregnant with meaning but never further explored.
But seemingly superfluous balloons should not leave us feeling filled with little more than air.
Moonless plays at 6pm tonight (6 July) and 12pm tomorrow (7 July). Click here for details and booking.