OSO Arts Centre is a wonderful place to visit if you are willing to take risks. With its high turnover of shows you might see something that is utterly amazing, or something best consigned to the nearby duck pond. Thankfully Many Moons, from Rocket Box Theatre, falls just the right side of the divide. There is much to admire about the play, but the balance of the narrative needs addressing if it is to be a focal point in the discussion about loneliness, as it purports to be.
The plot revolves around four very different people during one summer day. Each tells their own story in turn, as their lives are slowly revealed. Oliver is young, highly intelligent but socially awkward. Juniper is a livewire, full of energy, but unable to make real connections. Meg is pregnant, in a loveless marriage. And finally there is Robert, much older, his wife slowly being lost to dementia, despised by his wife’s nurse for reasons that slowly become apparent. All four are alone, but somehow intertwined. Oliver and Juniper live in the same building, Robert and Meg live in the same street; Juniper works in the pregnancy clinic that Meg attends. So, as their stories unfold, they cross paths.
There is no faulting the writing, after all, this play first saw life at Theatre503, a place with serious writing pedigree. The cast are equal to their roles, fulfilling them confidently, faultlessly supporting each other as stories progress.
So, where does it falter? Let’s start with the little niggles. The use of the microphone during the opening scenes feels more appropriate to a poor stand-up comedy night than a serious play. And whilst acknowledging the OSO’s space doesn’t allow for actors to exit the stage into the wings, they could perhaps have stepped behind a curtain at times, leaving the focus on stage to the solo storyteller, instead of being visibly distracting on the side. But these are minor complaints, easily resolved.
Where things really go wrong is that emphasis on loneliness; there is even an Audience Discussion sheet to complete, the questions all pertaining to loneliness and isolation. For nearly a whole hour the play focusses very much on that. The characters are all lonely in their own unique ways and we feel for each of them. But then it abruptly shifts to a tale about something much darker. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this: it is, after all, the original story. Maybe the problem is that the focus on the loneliness of the characters is so intense it is then a struggle to address the elephant in the room with equal measure, so come the final scenes the two parts feel disjointed. In fact, it’s possible that the plot now threatens to suggest that young men who are lonely are capable of doing the most unspeakable things. I’m sure that’s not the intention, but that is how it plays out, risking the audience leaving thinking about an altogether different topic, and destroying all the hard work invested on loneliness initially.
There is so much worthy of praise with this production, from its acting to its directing, but it left me feeling very uncomfortable in its mixed message.
Written by: Alice Birch
Directed by: Mischa Jones
Produced by: Rocket Box Theatre
Playing until: This show has completed its current run but is touring nationally. Further information can be found here