Beast on the Moon
Reviewed – 31st January 2019
“The script builds a rhythmic, repetitive quality that creates the tension and danger”
Condensing a great calamity can only really have one of two outcomes; the work can trivialise that time in history and make it smaller, or it can personalise it, making it somehow bigger. Beast on the Moon, written by Richard Kalinoski and directed by Jelena Budimir achieves the latter and, in its first time in London for twenty years, animates the tragedy and consequences of the Armenian Genocide through the striking lives of three deep characters.
The story follows the life of Aram (George Jovanovic) and Seta (Zarima McDermott) Tomasian who begin as a couple married through a mail-order bride service; Seta escaping an orphanage at just fifteen and Aram trying to begin living out what he believes is his ideal and duty-bound domestic lifestyle. Despite both being survivors of the same genocide and their shared culture, each clash together through the tumult of immigration and childlessness. As they grow into their relationship, a different type of orphan, Vincent (Hayward B Morse), enters between the couple and exposes the repressed grief that haunts Aram and encloses Seta.
The three actors step carefully through what is undeniably a complex and slow script; each of the three takes their time with careful characterisation both within and across each scene as the characters grow up and grow together. The script builds a rhythmic, repetitive quality that creates the tension and danger between the present married couple and emanating from their individual pasts.
All three actors give tremendously thoughtful and committed performances throughout the evening as they skillfully incorporate the shifts in age and innocence the characters undergo. McDermott, in particular, grows Seta from a traumatised and stunted girl lost in a new country into a capable woman who, whilst performing a traditional female role of emotional foil to her male counterpart, delivers personal strength and resilience.
The Finborough Theatre plays host to this production with its usual intimacy; a bare set and a tense audio overlay help build scenes out of pregnant silences into climactic releases. Aram’s photography streams into a production that forces the audience to think about what drives someone to record the present as they try to overwrite their past.
No play about an almost recent genocide is an easy ride. Beast on the Moon is challenging both with its subject matter, but also through the relationships on stage, which don’t give way to hyper-modern sensibilities on gender and age. A profound and well-articulated play that speaks to the power of meaningful individual stories told with commitment and bravery.
Reviewed by William Nash
Photography by Scott Rylander
Beast on the Moon
Finborough Theatre until 23rd February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 14th November 2018
“There are a few moments sprinkled throughout where the asides subside, and the story and characters are allowed to actually breathe”
Chutney is a play brimming with potential – an intriguing premise, intelligent intentions, slick design, and a talented pair of actors helming the two-hander. Despite having all the recipe for brilliance, however, not all the ingredients are used effectively.
Reece Connolly’s play aims to transpose the murderous couple dynamic seen in the likes of Macbeth and Sweeney Todd to the thoroughly middle class Gregg (Will Adolphy) and Claire (Isabel Della-Porta). After primally killing a dog one evening, the pair ignite a bloodlust that they find in equal parts exhilarating and terrifying as it consumes their lives, and the paranoia of their misdeeds starts to infect their relationship. It’s an exciting setup for a story, but the script unrelentingly dismisses the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ with a constant barrage of narration and exposition to the audience; having the characters incessantly explain what they are thinking at any given moment removes all notion of subtext, and frequently kills the dramatic potential for scenes. Claire and Gregg will often deliver intercutting monologues to the audience which would have been more far more engaging as dialogue between the two where they are forced to challenge and change each other. Instead, it at times feels like two one-person shows simply running parallel.
It’s a shame the script falters in this way, as Connolly’s writing is often witty, sharp, and poetic. There are a few moments sprinkled throughout where the asides subside, and the story and characters are allowed to actually breathe – moments such as Claire drunkenly dancing with a crossbow, the couple reservedly eating pasta, and a particularly enthralling confrontation in the second act are all stellar, and made it all the more disappointing that more of the script did not place an equal amount of faith in the audience to engage with the story. It is also in these moments that Adolphy and Della-Porta are allowed to shine, finding opportunities to bring depth and nuance to the characters, and delivering energetic and intense performances.
The design helps to gloss over the script’s shortcomings, with Matt Cater’s sumptuous lighting and Ben Winter’s biting sound lending weight and impact to dramatic peaks that would have otherwise been lacking. Jasmine Swan’s aesthetically delightful middle-class kitchen set also depicts the world of the play very effectively, and Georgie Staight’s direction incorporates this with the actors to create some striking imagery.
Ultimately, however, it all feels hollow. It’s always concerning when the writer’s note in a programme claims the play is achieving or exploring ideas that simply aren’t present in what transpired on stage. Chutney, unfortunately, is one such example of this. It aims to critique the middle-class utopia of Britain but, for a play which spends the majority of its runtime lambasting the audience with quips and asides, finds itself with very little to say.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Rah Petherbridge
The Bunker until 1st December
Previously reviewed at this venue: