Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review: 'Moonfleece' at The Pleasance, 27th March 2018

Moonfleece reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

The psychology behind far-right groups is darkly fascinating. I've always thought they share a lot in common with religious cults: both prey on directionless people with little going on in their lives, both encourage insular language and acronyms, both are eager for displays of commitment (for example visible tattoos that make it difficult to leave), and both rail against a shapeless, formless adversary that is simultaneously laughable and all-powerful.

Philip Ridley's Moonfleece, first performed in 2010, takes us under the skin of a burgeoning far-right party. It's called Avalon and is intended to evoke the St George-waving imagery of the English Defence League, British National Party and the umpteen scraggly back-room-of-the-pub nationalist groups looking for someone to kick the shit out of.

The play is set within a condemned flat in the East End, formerly the childhood home of Curtis, (James Downie) a blonde, slicked-hair, besuited young fascist trying desperately to project an air of intimidating confidence. Now it's a squat, occupied by street entertainers Link (Rocio Rodriguez-Inniss) and Zak (Jaz Hutchins).

Curtis and his neo-Nazi chums re-enter the flat by kicking the door in and order Link to leave. She angrily refuses, and before too long the living room is populated by a gaggle of loose acquaintances who've gotten word that something interesting is going down. By the end there are eleven people crammed on stage: including (but not limited to) the three fascists, their disappointed former friends and an overly-dramatic would-be psychic.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Ridley efficiently demolishes far-right groups, and does it without engaging them on their preferred ideological battleground. Arguing the benefits of multiculturalism, the inanity of racism and the logical inconsistencies of fascism is pointless - any jumped up fascist worth his salt will have been thoroughly impregnated with rhetoric cul-de-sacs and disingenuous responses designed to infuriate anyone engaging with them.

A much better tactic is to get under their skin and make them understand why they're so enamoured with its pale shade. Ridley's thesis is that in an ever-complicated world in which horrible things seem to happen for no reason, people instinctively latch onto easy answers.

Your life is not a meaningless, impoverished trudge because global economic systems require it to be - it's because of Amir down the newsagents! Your Mum didn't die of a treatable disease because the NHS is chronically underfunded and being prepared for consumption by US healthcare giants, it's because the hospitals are full of scrounging migrants leeching off good honest people like you.

It's an insidiously Manichean mindset: condensing the terrifyingly infinite complexities of the world down to a black and white, good versus evil, us versus them divide. After establishing this, Moonfleece then goes on to outline some of the consequences of signing up, demonstrating through the story of Curtis' family that this worldview does not admit nuance and complexity - to question one facet calls the entire corrupt philosophy into question. It picks at the fraying edges of fascism - showing that their supposedly strong inter-group bonds, loyalty and unity will quite easily be cast aside should you stray from a prescribed path.

It's a marvellous piece of writing, but then it's a Philip Ridley play so you kind of expect that. Fortunately, this particular production more than does the ideas and writing justice. Some members of the young cast (particularly James Downie and Rocio Rodriguez-Inniss) catch the eye more than others, but there's not anyone even approaching a weak link here. Everything is shot through with a palpable energy and dynamism, perhaps best demonstrated when Jaz Hutchins leaps around the room while performing a story, in the process casually demolishing a number of the props.

Despite the on-stage chaos, Max Harrison's direction is extremely precise. The performance space is pretty cramped, especially towards the end when the eleven-strong cast are all on stage at the same time- yet the blocking is impressively invisible. The decision to use traverse staging helps, though perhaps inevitably there are a couple of moments where sightlines of key moments are blocked by actors standing right in front of me.

However, despite the play 'only' being eight years old, the nature of the far right in Britain (and elsewhere) has evolved since 2010.  Crowbarring more contemporary stuff into a narrative this carefully constructed is unwise, and the basic psychology behind it hasn't changed. Still, I'd love to see a piece of drama that chews on modern 'ironic/not ironic' internet fascism.

Quibbles aside, this is a great show. It showcases both cast and ideas beautifully, and I don't hesitate to recommend you check it out.

Moonfleece is at The Pleasance until 15 April. Tickets here.

Pictures by Gregory Birks.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'Moonfleece' at The Pleasance, 27th March 2018”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights