Pros: Jan Asher gives an outstanding performance as the fierce and captivating Claudia Hampton. Some nice insights into the history of Egypt in the Second World War.
Cons: A bit too much of Claudia narrating her story. It sometimes hits the head instead of the heart.
Moon Tiger is a first-time adaptation of Penelope Lively’s Booker Prize-winning novel by the same name. It’s a much-loved book, primarily because of its feisty heroine – the beautiful, prominent writer, Claudia Hampton, who on her deathbed writes a history of the world and her own life. Also because of its kaleidoscopic quality, it shifts forwards and backwards through her chronology and replays in succession the same scenes from different characters’ viewpoints. The switch to another mind that remembers differently colours our impression of events; causing us to question the reliability of history and the act of remembering.
The Rose Theatre Kingston provides a grand stage for a very grand lady. Both Simon Beale’s adaptation and direction by Stephen Unwin goes a long way to bringing Claudia’s deliciously cutting and opinionated lines to life. Jane Asher shows incredible range and command of the stage as Claudia, who retells the details of her life as a war correspondent in Egypt. Claudia is a writer of contentious history books, an inadequate mother, a grieving lover, and a combative and incestuous sister. All from the perspective of her 76 year old dying self. Asher effortlessly handles the excitement of a young girl to a sexy and independent woman, and then on to a frail but forthright senior, whose voice is rather pleasingly Thatcher-esque.
The set design is elegant and minimal. All you see on stage is a white hospital bed surrounded by five chairs, upon which the accompanying cast of five wait and rise to act out Claudia’s past and present. Only the character Tom, Claudia’s wartime lover who dies in battle, has the privilege of bursting onto the stage. His sudden appearance is as much as surprise for us as it was for Claudia (his exit is just as surprising!). I very much appreciated the vertical panel behind the cast that showed the various images and chronology of each life event. You get to see artworks the characters see, such as a Golden Dragon Bowl from the Ashmolean Museum, or a picture of Rameses the second. Most importantly, you get see a Moon Tiger, which is a green coil of mosquito repellant that burns on Claudia’s bedside table. You realise that this is what is causing the strange haze that emanates from beside the hospital bed, and that the play is ultimately a discovery of why the moon tiger is a mainstay in Claudia’s thoughts.
My main quibble with the performance is that it has an over reliance on Claudia narrating her past. It bordered at times on feeling a bit like an educational talk, something to be merely observed and thought about. Overall, it was a memorable evening and I would say the theatre venue is definitely worth a visit. Their sound system is a dream. From the chirps of the crickets alone, it felt like I was lost somewhere in an Egyptian desert.
The theatre seats are very comfortable (maybe not the cushions people were sitting on by the front of the stage!). The 900-seat auditorium is spacious and has a very modern feel, so I was surprised to learn that its layout is based on its Elizabethan namesake in London, where the plays of Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare were originally staged but with a roof of course! There is also a quirky expansive cafe area, huge, with a medley of different styled tables and chairs and sofas. And it is very tempting to try out more than one.
Original Author: Penelope Lively
Adapted by: Simon Reade
Director: Stephen Unwin
Booking Until: 1st March 2014
Box Office: 08444 821 556
Booking Link: http://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/visiting-productions/moon-tiger