Brighton Year-Round 2020
A solo performer with an extremely wide range presents a delightful thought-provoking jigsaw puzzle of a piece.
It starts with Elizabeth – “they call me Els” – a woman whose face, fingers, voice and backbone are contorted through old age, who speaks of the moon as her eternal and unageing companion, and is suitably stocked with wise metaphors drawn from the seasons and the agricultural cycle.
Just as we start to get to know this character, she is gone, to be replaced by a succession of other women, each delivering a beautifully written monologue. Kate Darach, the lone actress, achieves these changes of persona with wonderful ease, and with a bare minimum of costume changes.
Just at the point when the succession of characters, and the cuts between scenes, start to become predictable, suddenly the rhythm changes, and a character switch takes us by surprise, seemingly mid-sentence. A similar deft rhythm jolt occurs later when we are confronted with a character who has two personas – one online, and the other in real life.
There are recurring linked themes of the lunar cycle, the womb, pregnancy (or the yearning for pregnancy) and seasons. Overall the piece has the feel of an intricately woven patchwork quilt, a patchwork of women’s experiences, women separated by age, nationality and era, but linked by their childbearing anatomy, by the roles determined for them by society, and by the age-old moon watching over them. And it feels like a quilt in another way, too: there’s a delicious warmth to the whole thing, a snuggliness, a homely intimacy to shield us from the elements.
When Els returns to the stage towards the end (though considerably younger than we met her at the start), the circle is completed beautifully. It feels like we’re meeting up with an old (yet younger) friend. One phrase from this final scene sticks with me; Els asks “Why must women suffer?” Is that, perhaps, what the whole piece has been about? While we have seen a fair bit of suffering depicted, we have also seen our share of joy. Is the joy merely a façade? Perhaps, as a man, I will never fully understand how the light and the shade relate, how the pain and the ecstasy of giving birth to another human being mesh to form a whole, how much damage the subjugation of women through the ages has really done. The absolute best way to educate me about such things is not merely to tell me, but to formulate a kaleidoscopic jigsaw piece of theatre, with a myriad of questions and some tantalising hints at answers.
It is rare to find a piece that I would be delighted to see again. Moon Tales is such a piece. I would see it again for the opportunity to spot more links between the characters and their stories, and tie together the themes to form a better understanding of its multi-layered narrative. Mainly, though, I would see it again for the superb high quality of Kate Darach’s performance, to marvel afresh at the super-quick changes of emotion, accent, physicality and mood. I can’t quite believe that that was just one single piece of theatre. Let alone a solo piece.