“You are the proper target for a cat’s derision”
Pinter has never really been one of those playwrights that has held much appeal for me, despite how well regarded he is. The only of his plays that I’ve ever seen is the Almeida’s production of The Homecoming but by and large, I’ve tended to avoid his work. But the Donmar is usually good value for money and always pull together stellar casts and so I duly booked for his 1993 play Moonlight, with Bijan Sheibani making his Donmar directorial debut, sneaking in for a £10 seat at the last preview. Little was I know that time could so slowly as it did here.
A ruminative meditation on a dysfunctional family, Moonlight focuses on the dying Andy and his estranged family: his emotionally distant wife Bel tends at his bedside, his two sons refuse to see him and verbally spar with each in a grubby bedsit and the ghostly presence of his daughter that haunts his house. In their own spheres, they all talk about the things they have lost, or rather talk around them, as it is clear that the breakdown in communication between that has caused the rifts, still persists and they are all unable to surmount it.
Sheibani, fresh from the ‘interesting’ episode that was Greenland, has very much pared back his approach here thankfully and so we are left with something more akin to his fabulously moving production of Our Class. He is aided by the (as-predicted) stellar cast: Deborah Findlay’s mellifluous tones sound wonderful, wrapping themselves around Pinter’s verbiage and her scenes with David Bradley’s sardonically bitter and bed-ridden Andy are the most engaging part of the production as he rails against his fate and reminisces about the loves and lusts of his younger years and she sits by, largely disinterested but not missing the opportunity to get her own barbs in too. There’s elements of bittersweet humour mixed in with the rancour, but not much as portrayed here as death looms so large. Daniel Mays puts in a great physical performance as the more dynamic older brother, overshadowing Liam Garrigan somewhat who spends much time in bed, perhaps unconsciously echoing his father.
But it is all left me stone cold. It seemed to last a lifetime, because I had no emotional connection with any of the characters the scenes seemed to stretch out for an age. Part of the problem for me was that it is so beholden to past events which are hinted at but never clarified, there is little to play for here as it were, just the slow inexorable grind towards death and the acceptance of the divisions that have arisen in this family. The dialogue is so calculated and arch, full of oblique twists, turns and wordplay that, whilst evidently characteristic of the playwright, just heightened the irreality of the piece and muted any emotion that might have been generated: it all sounds so artificial.
Dan Jones’ sound design is probably the best thing about the show, highly atmospheric throughout, random burst of the Cure’s Lovecats notwithstanding, really pushing the ponderous mysterious air of the piece, Jon Clark’s heavily blue-filtered light helping here too. Bunny Christie’s design is partly effective, covering the space in what looked like deep blue carpet but whilst I am a fan of recycling, there’s a re-emergence of the strip of lighting around the edge of the stage that feels like it has been done so many times before at the Donmar, leaving me uninspired. And as for the beds which move automatically at random intervals, the less said the better: all I could think was just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should!
Sometimes you just come to realise that certain things just aren’t for you. And as with Wastwater last week, it is clear that I am no fan at all of the elliptical drama, full of unresolved mysteries, it just isn’t what I want from my theatre. So much is left unsaid and unexplored here: the truth of what happened to Bridget and what her presence here really is, the grandchildren, the tangled relations between Andy and Bel and their friend Maria. But crucially, I didn’t give a jot about any of it, or any of them, and was longing for the play to reach its seemingly never-ending conclusion.