Pros: A thoroughly researched, gentle portrayal of grief. Good use of video projections to enhance the emotional impact.
Cons: A stiflingly hot venue, and overuse of metaphors and similes in the script, will test an audience’s concentration levels.
What does it mean to be left behind when a family member disappears without a trace? It’s a dark and unsettling issue for drama, but one that Max Dickins felt compelled to explore after seeing news reports of ‘The Man on the Moor’: a man found dead on Saddleworth Moor in December 2015, without ID. Grainy CCTV footage of his journey sparked a nationwide mystery. As this one-man play later reveals, 40 people contacted the police believing he was their missing relative.
Dickins’ narrative fictionalises the relatives’ hunt, told from the point of view of Matthew, whose father vanished without a trace when Matthew was small. He joins a missing people support group for ‘The Left Behind’, populated by those mourning husbands, daughters and precious family members. The support group is represented by five chairs, Dickins flitting between them to take on the accents and mannerisms of group members.
Matthew’s mother meets a new partner, Colin, with irritating pretentions: “Colin likes a Nordic aesthetic”, we are told. He cooks high-brow food. His personality feels vast, a jolting comparison to the small but constant ache of the absent father. Matthew’s mother occasionally appears via video projection, but they rightfully exclude Colin, highlighting his otherness.
There are some really beautiful metaphors in Dickins’ script: the bags under someone’s eyes are described as “hammocks where his regrets sleep”; we hear Matthew’s mother “suffocated her sadness under a pillow of admin”. However, both metaphors and similes are sprinkled too liberally at times. The sections that work best are less reliant on these poetic devices, giving them more emphasis when they occur.
The tension is ramped up as Matthew visits Saddleworth Moor, but the audience begins to flag – nothing to do with the production, but the venue is stuffy, and you can see people smothering yawns. Hopefully Dickins doesn’t take the audience’s lull for boredom.
Seeing The Man on the Moor is a privilege – it’s a respectful and sensitive piece that also promotes the charity Missing People. You wouldn’t wish their pain on anyone, but this play captures their perspective and the endless detective work they’re left to do.
Author: Max Dickins
Director: Oliver Senton
Producer: Something for the Weekend
Booking Until: 27 August 2017
Box Office: 03333 444 167
Booking Link: http://www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk/whats-on/the-man-on-the-moor