Little girl Luna (Yasmin Golding) takes centre stage for Moonlight; she can’t sleep without the aid of her Nightlight (Georgia Ball). Sadly, Nightlight is out of power and the only way Mr Watt (Kevin Orlando) can repair her is for Luna to venture into the darkness and recover a mystical energy known as moonlight. Along her quest, Luna runs into some interesting pairs. The first are Callisto and Majesto, the Tea Witches (Emma Maguire and Alex Robertson respectively). They try to guide Luna through her journey with help of tea leaves. There’s Fredrick (Pernille Himmelmoe) and Gwynneth (Finnian Nacey), two disorganised and confused signposts who don’t know where or how to lead Luna. And Silversea and Lilypool (Nicole Topp-Annan and Dara Flaws), round out the beings Luna meets, two water nymphs that aid her in crossing a body of water. Moonlight is about overcoming your fears and perseverance; no matter how scary the night gets, or how far Luna is out of her comfort zone, she keeps going.
Luna meets several interesting characters along her path to discover the moonlight and to discover herself, and these characters are like unreliable guides in her journey. Try as they might, none are able to help Luna in her quest to find the moonlight for they can’t remember where she needs to go to find it. What’s best about these pairings is the colour they add to the story. Callisto and Majesto fight like an old married couple, and are more concerned with who’s right about the tea leaves than Luna’s queries; they look like hermits covered in leafage, and there’s a mystic-like quality to them in how they walk and approach Luna. I’m reminding of a much less naked and much less intimidating Gollum watching them fuss over their precious tea leaves. Fredrick and Gwynneth have a really cute interaction with Luna, in that they need her help to reorganising themselves just as much as Luna needs their guidance, and while Luna can help out the signposts, the signposts don’t have the faintest idea where Luna needs to go. Silversea and Lilypool, the water nymphs, work with Luna to overcome a sudden body of water; while they seem the most capable of helping Luna, it ends up placing them in a bit of peril. It’s another display of Luna’s determination, her striving to reach her goal. I ponder how Moonlight would evolve if we spent more time with each of these pairings.
Moonlight could do with a little more clarity surrounding its core message. The idea that Luna discovers she’s overcome her fears by facing them head-on is perfectly clear, but more of the story could serve or build towards this. I wonder if there’s room to inspect the interactions Luna has with the pairings and creatures, and whether this might give me more. Perhaps Luna must help the creatures she runs into before she can continue on her journey, or the creatures have a more active role in shaping the path Luna must take, whether by helping her succeed or forcing a detour. The scene that contributes to the narrative’s message the most is when, from my interpretation, Luna struggles to travel through a ferocious storm. Several performers use thin white sheets to simulate wind, rough waves, tumults, while Golding weaves and squeezes her way through. This is one of the more alarming scenes of the performance, and the only one that would risk scaring young audience members; though the cold blues and purples lighting designer Pernille Himmelmoe washes this scene bright enough so the darkness isn’t too scary. It’s here the audience worries for Luna, but also, I think this is where we truly rally behind her. Luna has to work to overcome this obstacle, and makes the event more rewarding to watch.
Joel Rudolph’s live music (also present for In the Attic) is what truly helps bring the magic of Moonlight to the forefront. He matches the tune perfectly with the tone each scene is going for; when Luna’s starting her journey or toying with her Nightlight, the tune is whimsical, happy-go-lucky, soft, and uplifting. When Luna is in more dire situations, like her travel through the storm, the keyboard plays sharper notes, becoming deep, booming, and final. It’s the perfect accompaniment for the show’s nonverbal segments, which place a greater emphasis on showing the narrative through action rather than speech. My favourite moments are these action-focused sequences; Luna playing with her bedsheets, wrestling on whether she’s going to bed, her battle with the storm, her discovery of the moonlight. And they are my favourites because we don’t need any words to get what’s going on. Moonlight has an excellent balance between its nonverbal components, the parts that need a little more conversation, and the parts expressed in song, and Rudolph’s contribution (composed by Yasmin Golding, Georgia Ball, and Rudolph himself) helps tie it altogether in an energetic, ambient package.
Moonlight sets a soft, peaceful tone for the night. There are moments that are frightening to see Luna go through in her quest to discover the moonlight and about herself. There are moments that are heartwarming, where Luna helps and is helped by her newfound friends. And there are moments that are inspiring, such as watching Luna overcome her fears, which invigorates her audience to take a stab at their own. I settle back into my seat after intermission, feeling surprisingly zen and thoroughly enamoured that this performance speaks about confidence in a way that’s as majestical and thoughtful as it is simple to follow.
In the Attic
In the Attic follows the adventure of three young kids into the world of Owt, a mysterious place where two is better than one and everybody has a pair. Alex (Corey Wills), Sam (Peter Rodgers), and Bea (Cassidy Cruz) find a secret portal into Owt in an attic, and what Bea initially takes as an opportunity to explore a new, welcoming world eventually turns into a game of survival. Guides 1 and 2 (Janaye Henry and Daniel Gagau) and the rest of Owt’s inhabitants kidnap Bea because she doesn’t have a pair; they prepare a ritual to bind her to Owt’s only other individual, Yek (Terri Cochrane). In the Attic is about being brave and doing the right thing when need be; it’s about individuality and standing out from the crowd; and it is a challenging story for young audiences, as not all will end happily.
Rather than having an unhappy ending for the sake of it, In the Attic earns this sinister twist with the sense of urgency it creates from the outset. Alex and Sam quickly want to leave Owt once they arrive, seemingly afraid of what awaits them the more they meet the colourful yet aggressive inhabitants. Once Bea is kidnapped, she’s quickly paired with Yek and sent to the Binders (Gemma Revell and Saffron Troughton), two Maleficent-like beings capable of removing one’s individuality. I sit watching these struggles and the race to save their friend unfold, all the while acknowledging this as a very real threat: Owt doesn’t play by the rules of our world. It’s exhilarating but not overly scary. Much of this is aided by Janaye Henry’s lighting design, which keeps the stage warm and helps keep our spirits up, even when the characters are experiencing darkness.
There’s a sharp switch from what seems like a peppy, harmless, warm world into a cult-like syndicate, hell-bent on removing all sense of ‘self’ from their people in favour of pairing them with another just like them. This accelerates that sense of urgency, but leaves for a bit of a hole within the story itself: there’s not enough malevolence creeping into the story to hint at this change, and there isn’t quite enough time spent exploring this shift. The shadow creatures the Guides send out after the children bring the world it’s sinister atmosphere (played by Georgia May, Gemma Revell, Saffron Troughton, and Natalie Wilson). Each creature moves jaggedly, crawling and sprawling across the stage, gasping for air; they’re like ghouls, zombies, and most definitely dark and dangerous. I wonder if these creatures were shadow creatures to begin with; or perhaps they were other children captured and bound by the Guides. If we saw more of these shadow creatures or saw them as creatures that become ghoulish and shadowy, it might help the world evolve into its dark side instead of jump cutting.
The set design, courtesy of Gemma Revell, Cassidy Cruz, and Georgia May, really helps to construct and facilitate the journey the main characters will experience. When the friends first find the portal, they’re rummaging through what seems like thousands of cardboard boxes in an attic, trying their darnedest not to make too much noise. This immediately sets off the idea of adventure; the simple act of searching far and wide in this seemingly massive but definitely confined space makes the audience start to theorise what they’re about to see. Where are the friends going? What will they find? Who are they going to meet? What is their plan? I get a little giddy watching it all unfold because the characters themselves don’t have the answers to these questions, and it’s fun to watch and discover things about the story simultaneously with them. It’s almost as though the audience is a part of the journey, too. These boxes are struck down as the creatures of Owt appear and we’ve entered that world, replaced by branches and other props made of newspaper and covered in fairy-lights that hang from the railings in Studio 77. It sets Owt up as a safe, magical place, and this is clever, appearances being deceiving, and we slowly learn ‘safe’ isn’t quite the right word.
I’m heartbroken but satisfied with how In the Attic concludes. It’s earns its solemn ending, where only two children climb back out Owt’s attic portal. It isn’t often a show merits an unhappy ending, lesser still with a show for younger audiences, but it’s a carefully constructed step into showing that kids are ready and willing to see things where happy endings aren’t a given; they want the challenge. In the Attic makes me think about how I’ve treated others for being different, or for liking different things, or for being different to me. And that is a simple, digestible concept both kids and adults alike could perk up their ears to.
I do hope Palmer and her cohort find the time to return to these works down the line; the short season didn’t do the productions justice. Moonlight and In the Attic are tales of adventure, tales of discovery, and most importantly, tales kids want to see. From the simple yet deep narratives to the immersive and mystical design, Moonlight and In the Attic are impressive examples of ‘what else’ there is to offer our young people in terms of theatre. And I think kids, big and little everywhere, will appreciate more choice, especially if thoughtful, beautiful work like what I witnessed are some of these new options.