Reginald Theatre, February 9


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Brielle Flynn and Romy Bartz. Photo: Clare Hawley.

Most of us enter a theatre for brief respite from dowdy lives. I don’t know why playwrights stopped cherishing theatricality, the lifeblood of their art form, but it’s happened to such a degree that a rarity like The Moors socks you fair in the imagination. Rampaging through this play is the sheer joy of exploring the limitless stagecraft possibilities that exist beyond humdrum naturalism. So take a bow, Jen Silverman, the US playwright who, obviously doting on the Bronte sisters, has created this fantasia referencing their works and lives.

Not that anyone called Bronte inhabits the stage – although we don’t know the moorhen’s name. Yes, one of the characters is a moorhen (Alex Francis), and another a mastiff (Thomas Campbell). Adult actors usually play animals for an audience with a mean age of five, and, as in those instances, these animals think and speak – although thinking is not the moorhen’s strongest suit. Imagine a benign, female Trump with feathers.

Time and place are absurd abstractions in Silverman’s world, and logic an extraneous luxury. Yet, like looking at a trompe l’oeil surrealist painting, themes of love and loneliness take shape and dance before your eyes.

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Diana Popovska. Photo: Clare Hawley.

Emilie, the newly-hired governess (Brielle Flynn), arrives at a house that is probably on the Yorkshire Moors (or might not be) with a reasonably firm grip on reality, only to find her fingers rapidly slipping. Nothing, you see, is quite as it seems. Agatha (Romy Bartz), the stern older sister of the diary-keeping Huldey (Enya Daly), has fraudulently hired Emilie by masquerading via letter as the sisters’ brother, Branwell (the name of the Brontes’ brother), who, is a bricked-in prisoner in the attic.

Kate Gaul’s production and design (for Siren Theatre Co) astutely uses a slow-motion revolve to let us scrutinise moments of intra-scene stasis from different angles. In conjunction with Nate Edmondson’s music she has maximised the inherent Gothic melodrama – in fact, perhaps too much too soon. The theatricality fizzes so vigorously in the text, itself, that the delivery could actually be underplayed. The key to non-naturalistic acting, after all, is not to add a side-order of ham to the theatrical feast, but to bare the truth that lies within this new reality.

Diana Popovska does this in portraying the maid (who, in a typically Silvermaniac flourish, is called Marjory in the parlour; Mallory in the scullery). As a direct result Popovska also maximises the humour of a play that is funnier than this production currently allows it to be. Bartz’s Agatha is less austere than might have been expected, and therefore subsequent revelations come as less of a jolt. Nonetheless she, too, is expert at milking the zaniness, while maintaining a truthful core to her character.

Until March 1.