‘Tis the season for spooky revivals, cobwebbed drama & cheap Halloween tat in the supermarkets. Creeping into this uneven milieu, like fog from an icy lake is the professional premiere of Jen Silverman’s gothic romp, The Moors.
Silverman has taken Bronte as a backbone and given the whole haunted hoo-ha a queer, feminist twist, with a knowing nod to the comedic quirks of the genre. The excellent cast, all graduated from full time actor training in the jaws of the pandemic, with much of their theatrical education gleaned online. It’s a joy to see fresh talent claiming the stage and given an opportunity to flex their chops.
As a venue, The Hope is a prime example of ‘black box’ theatre in a poky room above a pub. In a such an intense, cheek-by-jowl environment, there’s no room for bitty outfits or pallid performances. For this show, they received 1,900 applications to audition and met with 120 hopefuls. This refreshing approach to sourcing new talent proves, that despite a raft of challenges, the kids are doing okay. Or, at least, some of them are.
It’s a testament to the skills of the entire team that while scuttling ‘round a tiny room, they somehow conjured up a big rattling mansion and the expansive, creepy moors which surround the home. The archetypal sinister and surly servant is played by Tamara Fairbairn who makes ‘Marjory’ both hilarious and terrifying in equal measure. It’s a fine line to creep along and she nails it.
Meredith Lewis plays Emilie, the unfortunate governess who’s landed a gig in a hellish psychodrama, in absolute isolation, where there’s no HR, logic or job security. Emilie slowly clocks that she’s in an unhinged horror and it’s the conviction of Lewis in her performance that gives us the chills and keeps the show from veering into full-tilt parody. At one point, she sings a mournful ballad while strumming on a lute and it was a spellbinding moment of beauty.
Peter Hadfield as The Mastiff and Matilda Childs as A Moor-Hen gamely deliver top performances, as a dog and bird respectively, but sadly this philosophical sub-plot is a distraction from the main narrative and while well written, adds only confusion. They both bring their A game, but the surreal animal sideshow should face a judicious axe.
Sophia Pardon’s set and costume design are on point. The ruffled skirts and corsets boast impressive detail and the modern flourishes that echo punk and new romantic fashions worked perfectly. Imogen Mackenzie and Kenia Fenton bring differing disciplines to their roles as twisted sisters. One is an icy, Sapphic strategist and the other is like a dim Victorian influencer and both actors turn it out with precision.
The Moors is very funny, sporadically chilling and undeniably entertaining. It’s also an impressive showcase of fresh talent, working with new material, bringing youthful hope to the experimental Hope Theatre.
The Moors is at The Hope Theatre until 5th November, https://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/the-moors/
Reviewer: Stewart Who?
Reviewed: 14th October 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★