Moth, by Declan Green; Hope Mill Theatre, April 14 2017.
Moth begins with two almost catatonic looking characters in school uniforms walking slowly down opposites sides of the stage while a cacophony of sound and light surrounds them, building to a point that makes the audience tense and uncomfortable before a word has even been spoken. It’s a technique that will be used throughout, and one that fits well with the themes of the play. Moth highlights the turbulent workings of the inner mind, the troubles that often lurk beneath calm exteriors.
Sebastian (Alistair Michael) and Claryssa (Charlotte Gascoyne) are the two characters at the centre of this discussion of mental health and depression. Following the troubling opening section, we learn more about these two protagonists in a series of scenes that depict a seemingly typical teenage friendship. While the two young friends hurl insults and take the piss out of each other, there is also a suggestion of a sweeter and more fundamental connection between these two outcasts. When Sebastian holds his breath in an attempt to get Claryssa to stop ignoring him, it becomes clear that the two friends are aware of each other’s darkness, that they know how to help each other, that they’ve had to do it before.
More hints of this nature appear when the pair act out their interactions with other people in their lives; be it parents, teachers, school bullies, or anyone else they meet on the streets. It is during these sections that the two young actors really come to the fore, demonstrating versatility, comic timing, and a knack for mimicry that the play couldn’t function without. But it is also during these sections that we begin to question the reality of the play? Just how much of this interaction is actually happening, and how much is in Sebastian’s head? You might even start to ask if Claryssa is real at all?
These questions become particularly pertinent when Sebastian’s breakdown (or relapse, as it may turn out) begins in earnest. After the play’s most harrowing scene, in which Sebastian is beaten and spat upon by a gang of bullies, we see him experience a vivid hallucination in which he converses with a 100-foot-tall robot that tells him he needs to do some good in the world. He wakes up with a mission, guided by a moth in a jar. Without having seen the play, those last two sentences may sound faintly ridiculous. And, if we’re being honest, the scenes set up to outline Sebastian’s insanity did veer in that direction at times. For a play that managed the subtleties of friendship, anxiety, and teenage fears so well, it did go a little overblown when it came to representing the main character’s mental illness.
But this should be seen as a small criticism in the context of a play that deals with big questions in a mostly measured and original way. And there are also scenes when the subject matter is handled magnificently; particularly when we see Sebastian descend into Claryssa’s ‘cave’ to help her out of a depressive slump. This is just one of many sections in which the two actors display an undoubtable chemistry. They should be highly commended for their performances because the play would fall to pieces if they weren’t so strong in their roles. They also did well to ignore the chatter, laughter, and general rudeness from one section of the audience during this performance, so further accolades should be sent their way.
The power of some of these simple scenes, the touching nature of the relationship the characters share, means that the play doesn’t suffer too much from the more dramatic and overblown elements which sometimes upset the rhythm. Moth remains a powerful and poignant piece of theatre throughout, proving once again that Ransack Theatre are a company to keep an eye on.