Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
A school trip to the Paisley Witches’ Memorial proves momentous in Moonset, Maryam Hamidi’s spirited play about four teenage girls, who just need a little bit of power…
It’s a great premise. Surely the worst thing about being an adolescent is the lack of autonomy. There’s so much to deal with (exams, hormones, growing up, life), so much conflicting advice, so many rules and boundaries and exhortations to “be good”.
Roxy (Layla Kirk) feels like she’s on fire. Her best friend, Bushra, seems to be cooling on her, her mum (Zahra Browne) is concealing something, Nat 5s are looming – and why hasn’t she started her period yet? But Bushra (Cindy Awor) has her own problem – she has questions about her sexuality, and the answers seem scary. Meanwhile, Gina (Leah Byrne) is a ball of restless energy, bouncing from one calamity to another, and Joanne (Hannah Visocchi) isn’t sure her boyfriend, Gary, is quite the guy she’d like him to be.
They all feel powerless. And, like Abigail Williams and her friends before them, the girls seek strength in magic.
The teens’ exuberance is funny and engaging, but it doesn’t conceal the real problems they have to deal with. Hamidi’s bright, lively script grapples with dark themes – touching on coercive control, child abuse, immigration and cancer – treading this fine line with confidence. Director Joanna Bowman nimbly encapsulates the emotional turbulence of the formative years; she doesn’t hold back. We watch as the girls take terrible risks; they are as reckless and bold as only adolescents can be. And we’re on the roller-coaster with them, hoping against hope that the consequences of their actions won’t prove too appalling…
The set (by Jen McGinley) is a jumble, like the kids’ minds, with myriad items competing for attention. It works well, the empty circle in the middle representing their safe space: the junk yard, ironically, is the one place with nothing filling it, offering them room to think, to cement their friendship and ultimately find their hidden strengths. There are some pretty nifty effects too. I like the way the fire is created with smoke and light (courtesy of Simon Hayes). Movement director Vicki Manderson deserves a mention too: this is a kinetic piece and the momentum never flags, the performers interacting seamlessly with the space.
The set-up works well, leaving me scared for the girls and their futures. No spoilers here – suffice to say that, after the coup de théâtre at the end of the first act, the second provides a pay-off that is unexpected but satisfying. Although I’m crying as the lights go down, I’m also left with a feeling of hope.