Moonlight is a script from a writer who had previously done a great deal better for himself. First performed by a star-studded cast in 1993 at the Almeida it has waited until now for a West End revival and, if I’m honest, I’m not sure it was worth waiting for. Moonlight was Pinter’s last full length play and has all the hallmarks of a fading genius, the most obvious being its short length at only just over an hour, though this turns out to be one of my favourite aspects of the show.
It’s not all doom and gloom; the revival itself is incredibly well done with a slick and nuanced style that is a credit to director Beijan Shebani. Despite the strength of the production there is little to separate it from the wealth of mediocre theatre hanging around like a bad smell. It’s a very efficient show. The set, designed by Bunny Christie is functional and little more. The array of litter around Fred’s bed provides some small setting but it doesn’t go any further than that. The table in the corner that holds the phone is largely out of place and the bed Andy lies in looks more and more comfortable as the minutes drop by. The set in the theatre doesn’t help too much, with the unnecessary lighting around the stage aiding nothing other than sleep.
The quality of the acting cannot be undermined, though. David Bradley plays a vitriolic Andy, assured in his ability to work in an efficient and successful way in his life and sure of his opinion. Throughout the play he is sitting in his bed firing explosive expletives at every memory that he can pinpoint, often at the expense of his quiet but passively aggressive wife played by Deborah Findlay. She keeps a reserved and mature demeanour throughout that shows us how long she has been around him and how his personality has become somewhat one-dimensional to her over time. Unfortunately, we could identify with her position too well by the curtain. Bradley plays Andy with a desperation that Pinter was aiming for; the need to see his children or grandchildren, the need to revisit old affairs and past connections drives him throughout the play to no avail.
His estranged sons are a battle to keep up with, played with energy and rapidity by Daniel Mays and Liam Garrigan. Their quick-witted and intelligent bantering is well staged and well performed and gave the show a much needed pace, without which it would have ground to an emphatic halt. Their energy was needed greatly and they delivered well. The inclusion of the ghost of Bridget played by Lisa Diveney was an interesting decision from Pinter, though not as strange as his inclusion of a scene in which she actually talks with her brothers. Her place throughout the play is uncertain and confusing, though that’s what Pinter was trying for. He wanted Bridget to be lost in the angst and uncertainty of death and teenage life but she just looks lost on stage.
The characters of Andy and Bel’s estranged lovers, Maria and Ralph are characterized well by Carol Royle and Paul Shelley, bringing to life the slow revelation that they were all involved in mutual affairs in their younger days, not that the revelation is of particularly great import. Royle and Shelley bring a different dynamic to the show, a look at the situation from the outside that isn’t used to best effect, but again this is the script not the production, which is, to all intents and purposes, a solid show.
The revival isn’t poor, but it’s not outstanding and it needed to be, good not being good enough; the script is messy and nigh unfathomable. Very little is explained in detail. We never learn why the brothers are so estranged from their parents, or what on earth (and beyond) is going on with the character of Bridget. Her backstory is never mentioned, let alone explained and this left her feeling incredibly unjustified in my opinion. The erratic nature of the scenes and the conversations between the brothers speaks to me of a story half-finished. The amount of loose ends is not conducive to effective storytelling and again contributes to my impression that there is only half a story in Moonlight. There’s an awful lot of past in a man as old as Andy and with as many memories (some of which are very interesting) to fall back on but none of it is really explored.
Watching Moonlight was like watching the second half of a film; there’s backstory you’ve not been given access to and the action on stage is very bare without that flesh. What is, in fact, a very short piece was made to feel far too long for a show double the length never mind a show of its actual length. There just wasn’t a great deal there. It doesn’t feel real or emotional, reinforced by the convict-like lineup at the beginning. It feels artificial and false and fails to engage the attention of the audience at any point. The result is a show that is undeniably dull and markedly pretentious in its desperation to reclaim former glory. It’s incredibly frustrating trying to sit through it all, the only place I would have thought it even vaguely acceptable would be in a very comfortable armchair with a series of very stiff drinks. Might work as a radio play but I can’t find a good enough reason to recommend this show to anyone. Makes a poor hour feel like a wasted day.
Written by Harold Pinter; Directed by Bijan Shebani; At the Donmar Warehouse; Starring David Bradley, Deborah Findlay, Lisa Diveney, Daniel Mays, Liam Garrigan, Carol Royle, Paul Shelley; Runs from 7 April 11 - 28 May 11.
John Ord (20/04/2011)