After starting in London and then touring the UK, (more on which later,) Philip Ridley’s new play Moonfleece
ends its run right here in Greenwich. It’s another topical play in the runup to the election, touching on issues relating to the BNP’s rise, but where A Day at the Racists
was a very on-the-nose look at the subject, Moonfleece
approaches things in a much more oblique way. It also looks particularly at the younger supporters of extreme right-wing parties.
18-year-old Curtis (Sean Verey) grew up in an East London tower block, but after a number of tragedies befell his family, his mother remarried and moved out when the block became condemned. Curtis is now a member of the fictional far-right Avalon Party, whose leader is his stepfather. But something is haunting him, and together with two of his henchmen he goes back to his old flat. There he finds a squatter, Link (Reece Noi) and before long a lot of other people turn up to interfere with his plan. This is the third Philip Ridley play I've seen, and for my money by far the strongest. Perhaps surprisingly given the subject matter, Ridley invests it with several fairytale references, which become increasingly relevant as the play goes on. Politically, the theme is about memory, nostalgia and how the right wing can distort these to convert the vulnerable to their cause. But he does so by focusing very specifically on one person's story, and Verey carries this well. However most of the large cast also get their moment in the sun and considering there's 11 characters it's a tribute to director David Mercatali and his cast that the majority of them come across as very clearly defined. As well as Curtis and Link there's a couple of other Avalon Party thugs (Ashley George as none-too-bright Gavin, and Bradley Taylor as Curtis' loyal friend Tommy,) a gobby Asian girl (Krupa Pattani,) Sian Robins-Grace as a wheelchair-bound "psychic" who takes a fancy to Tommy (in fairness, Taylor is pretty hot,) and David Ames (who was one of the passengers on the flying double-decker in Doctor Who
) as a gay student journalist interested in Curtis, to name just a few. While this rainbow of people Curtis should hate is a bit convenient, I was impressed with the narrative device Ridley used to casually make it plausible that he had to put up with all of them there.
Overall this is both entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure, with a lot of great comic lines and some poignant moments. Due to both the writing and the acting we never find the Avalon boys demonised, and with most of them you always feel that these are people who've gone down the wrong path but are still redeemable. While the politics is always there, the play always puts the human story at the foreground. Which makes what comes next all the more baffling:
This was another performance that was followed by a post-show discussion, featuring Ridley, Mercatali, journalist Kenan Malik and producer Will Young (not that one.) The talk was roughly themed around censorship as a result of the show's recent tour, which took it to certain parts of the country with a recent rise in BNP votes. This was to have included Dudley, but at the last minute the venue ditched the play out of fear of offending the local community
. I don't think I was the only person who would have agreed with the panelists that the people in question can't have even read the play before making their decision, as it would be hard to imagine a play that deals with the subject matter Moonfleece
does in a way less likely to offend. As these things usually are this was an interesting discussion, and it sounds like the real victims here were the people, especially young people, in Dudley who didn't get their chance to engage with the material.Moonfleece
by Philip Ridley is booking until the 17th of April at Greenwich Theatre.