A governess packs her bags and moves to the desolate English moors to care for a child she will never meet. Upon her arrival, she finds a house plagued by a multitude of secrets. The dictatorial Agatha (Imogen MacKenzie), her little sister Huldey (Kenia Fenton), their elusive brother and a dog philosopher haunt Jen Silvermanit is to play, Moors.
Phil Bartlett presents his UK premiere with a sinister wink and odd humor, but the text is a mismatch between gothic tropes and too uncertain of his identity for the project to go well. It’s amazing how the lack of focus in the narrative is as important as the precision of the direction and the technical side of this production.
The eerie, atmospheric scenes where the main individual storylines unfold are overshadowed and bewildered by The Mastiff’s (Peter Hadfield) musings on the “pursuit of the ephemeral”. He laments his mortal shell until he meets a moorhen (Matilda Childs). He gradually becomes obsessed with her and – spoiler alert – he kills her. The dog eats the dog – or rather, the dog eats the bird – in Silverman’s highly extravagant Brontë-inspired campaign, which Bartlett imbues with rich Victorian glamour.
The company creates an unsettling feeling from the start with Julien Starrthe scary sound design of. Its organ extravaganza is the perfect fit for the haunted mansion vibe of Sophie Sorryis defined. She plasters Hope’s black box with peeling wallpaper, while the stage floor is covered in bare gravel. The landscape engulfs the house and the exteriors are differentiated only by more stark white lighting designed by Jonathan Simpson. The visual balance of the project is exquisite, as is Bartlett’s vision.
Its actors are on the lookout, seated with the audience with a ghostly Brechtian touch. They enter and leave the stage announced by a disturbing aura. Meredith Lewis’ Emilie begins as a wise and willing tutor for her promised child. She’s greeted by MacKenzie’s imperiously icy stares and dominating presence alongside Tamara Fairbairn’s perpetually inconvenient and utterly delectable maid(s). Fenton lends an excitable and disturbing personality to young Hudley, who spends her days romanticizing her life by posing as a famous writer.
The trio are joined by the most baffling and unnecessary additions of anthropomorphic animals. Taken out of context, the script of The Mastiff and The Moorhen is an allegorical tale which, in Silverman’s view, encapsulates the essence of the moors and the isolation of its characters. The Mastiff punctuates every scene change, stopping the plot and turning the show into a chore.
Hadfield and Childs make an attractive duo, but their roles don’t add much. The time spent with this depressed dog and his makeshift therapist could be better spent exploring the queer narrative that Silverman introduces but falls as a tragic manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome.
It’s a shame that the original hardware isn’t up to snuff. Bartlett’s Eye is perfect for spooky season, but this game, unfortunately, isn’t the thing. Running at over two hours, including an unnecessary interval, is too much of a tedious, boring walk that tries to be too many things at once.
The Moors runs at the Hope Theater until November 5.
Photo credit: Steve Gregson Photography