Sydney review - The Moors: enthralling theatrical experience
Brielle Flynn as Emilie and Romy Bartz as Agatha. Photo by Clare Hawley
By Jen Silverman
Directed by Kate Gaul
A Siren Theatre Company and Seymour Centre production
The Seymour Centre
Cnr of City Road and Cleveland Street
Season: 6 February – 1 March. Bookings www.seymourcentre.com or 02 9351 7940
Somewhere in a stately manor in the English Moors are the remains of its one-time owner, Master Branwell, buried alive behind a brick wall by his conniving sister Agatha. She kept him alive by removing a brick and placing watery gruel in the hole so that one day he could father a child with the newly arrived governess Emilie.
Sounds like a plan? Well, The Moors (by Jen Silverman) is a very watchable plan, supplemented with themes of erotic sexual intrigue, deception, desire, frustration and loneliness.
The play is set in the 1800’s and built around Agatha (Romy Bartz), the stern and intimidating stewardess of the house. We don’t see her brother locked behind the wall, but she needs him in order to create an heir who she will be able to raise and control as her own. Hence the need for a young and fertile governess. Emilie (Brielle Flynn) has been corresponding with the master of the manor (or so she thinks) and has been lured, in part, to the job by the deeply passionate writing of the master.
Upon arrival, Emilie soon realises that there is no master or child for her to care for, only Agatha’s younger sister Huldey (Enya Daly), the half-mad maid Marjory (Diana Popovska) and a downtrodden mastiff dog (Thomas Campbell). Huldey is a romantic and an avid diary writer. Marjory is a dotty split-personality housemaid who changes identity depending on whether she is in the scullery or the parlour. She is a Klinger-like character from MASH, using her mad behaviour as a way of coping with her dreary existence.
Emilie confronts Agatha about the false circumstances which made her accept the job offer. They discuss the contents of the letters and Agatha reveals that it was her that wrote them, not her brother. They must have been great letters because both Emilie and Agatha are aroused and become instant lovers. Agatha shares her plan with Emilie about fathering the master’s child and they make a deal for Emilie to get “two rooms in perpetuity” for having the baby.
In a seemingly unnecessary but interesting sub-plot, the mastiff talks to the audience about his loneliness and depression. He befriends an injured moor-hen (Alex Francis) and, over the course of a few meetings in the garden, the mastiff wins her confidence and she is no longer fearful that he might devour her. Given that the mastiff is the only male character, the comparison with domestic violence and male mental health issues is obvious.
The Moors is a most intriguing play. On one hand it is darkly comical on the surface. The character of Marjory is very funny as she goes about her house duties with her crazy demeanour. Also, Huldey’s daily diary entries are chuckle-worthy in their simplicity. On the other hand, as a statement of feminist empowerment it loses some impact. Masculinity is unfortunately portrayed either in shackles (the master behind the wall) or as something that can’t be trusted.
The cast and crew, under the masterful direction of Kate Gaul are very good. Set design, lighting and costumes created a comfortable atmosphere. All actions took place on a round, revolving stage which gave greater dimension to the story. A huge, grand chandelier overhung the set, whilst simple props did not distract.
The musical theme by Nate Edmondson was especially apt and haunting. Strong and loud, I was reminded of eerie feelings from old Vincent Price horror movies.
The Moors is an entirely enthralling theatrical experience which I can thoroughly recommend.