Shakespeare’s plays are fodder for many adaptations. The Tempest has spawned several, with Prospero’s Books and The Return To The Forbidden Planet perhaps the most surprising. The Buried Moon is a new work, a haunting, elegiac riff on the notions which underpin the story of Miranda and Caliban. In Jake Smith’s elegant production, it offers superb performances and bruising melancholy.
There is something profoundly lonely about the tent. Messy and vulnerable, yet with blankets, frypan, rudimentary light, it is a place where life is lived, but not necessarily enjoyed. Darkness abuts and encroaches – a huge marshland is the tent’s neighbour, protector, sentry. Eels slither freely, silently in the dank depths. The sense of the place is grim, but not entirely hopeless.
A young woman enters. She carries a shovel, a coat wrapped around her body. She looks wary, possibly frightened, definitely on alert. What is the shovel for? Protection? or Inquisitiveness?
This is The Buried Moon, Laura Turner’s smart and engrossing reimagining of the tale, or aspects of the tale, of Miranda and Caliban from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Its premiere production is directed with purposeful assurance by Jake Smith and is now playing at the Rose Playhouse, prior to a season in Petersfield as part of The Petersfield Shakespeare Festival. It is a winning combination: clever writing, excellent characterisation by two young performers and an illuminating production.
The Rose Playhouse offers a small playing area, but a vast backdrop which can take on any character. Here, Smith utilises the large space that contains the ruins of the original venue to great effect – it easily becomes the black wasteland that is the Lincolnshire Fens, the marshy area where Turner has set her version of the awakening that ignites and then burns too fiercely between two strangers.
Miranda has lost her mother and her father has opted for a new life in the country to deal with his own issues. Miranda attends the local school, but has difficulty coping. She seeks out the solitude of the marshlands, to swim, to think, to meditate on her circumstances. She wants to cope, and more.
One day, she encounters a strange lad, a loner, one who seems quite scarred by life, both physically and emotionally. A jagged, unfriendly scar stings his cheek like a starfish; his clothes don’t fit him well and there is a desperate neediness about the haunted look that scuttles across his eyes periodically. He seems strong, able, but somehow not quite right.
Their initial exchanges are tender and tentative, as each finds out more about the other and the joy they experience from sharing secrets and opening up is palpable. You watch them grow from shy teen to confident young adult – at least with each other. Then the outside pressures interfere with the tranquillity, and nothing is the same again.
Turner laces this story of adolescent angst turning into fear and fury with plenty of references to The Tempest for those who want them. Comments about Cal’s mother strike chords, and there is a very uncomfortable sequence where Miranda recounts an unsatisfactory sexualised encounter with Ferdy. This is particularly interesting as The Tempest proceeds on the assumption that Miranda and Ferdinand fall quickly in love and that Miranda is wholehearted about that – but what if she wasn’t? A far more likely scenario given her lack of experience of men on Prospero’s island. Here, Turner explores that path.
You don’t actually need to know anything about The Tempest for The Buried Moon to do its work. Turner’s dialogue is sharp and spirited, there are funny moments, and musical snatches of real intensity, as the awkwardness and splendour of new friendship shapes and reshapes this modern day Cal and Miranda.
Given the brutality that finally engulfs the pair, the line walked is very difficult. Smith steers the two actors with great sensitivity: even though we know where the play is likely to go, we still hope that Cal and Miranda will get together, that it will work out. In no small way, that is down to the charismatic skill of the performers, both of whom are superb.
Georgina Hellier is delightful as Miranda and the sense she conveys of a free spirit trapped in world in which she feels alienated and stunted is complete. The audience sees her mature with possibility and then retreat when confronted with the harshness of male entitlement.
Hellier brings a real sense of pain to her speeches about her dead mother and hermit-like father. Her voice is clear and strong, with a burnished tone that warms and excites. She is a real discovery.
As the enigmatic Cal, Michael Kinsey is pitch perfect, staying entirely on the right side of harshness and villainy; he does not overplay his hand at any point. Every aspect of Cal hangs together, from his eel butchering rituals to his off-beam methods of protecting Miranda. His voice is darkly coloured, resonant and crisp; you can smell the fear in his vowels, the rage in his consonants.
Kinsey paints Cal as broken by and rejected by society; a youngster made an outlaw of kinds by peer pressure and unfairness. The kind of lad you could find on the streets of London most days. Its a real performance made glossy by the air of mystery and simmering anger that Kinsey pours into the performance.
Although each is a revelation, together Hellier and Kinsey are really quite something. They work on and off each other’s instincts and every scene feels freshly minted, not mundane or predictable. There is a genuine excitement to their performances; as the stakes get higher, they seem to mature before our eyes. Kinsey’s physicality is especially remarkable – he is able to make his hands seem bigger or smaller as the scene requires, and his manly form becomes broodily hulking, in a deeply unsettling way, when the violence zig-zags to the surface.
Hellier is gloriously ethereal but, startlingly, just as deeply connected to the marsh and the ground. She finds a way to channel fecundity, or at least the possibility of it, reflecting the nature of her environment. The duality in her performance reflects and compliments the duality in Kinsey’s : savagery and childishness. These are the best performances from emerging performers so far in 2017.
Alex Ayling provides slightly unsettling (quite right too!) incidental music and this adds feeling to proceedings nicely. Smith’s production smartly emphasises the actors and their work and, through simplicity, allows the fires that are sewn into Turner’s narrative to rage and quieten to best advantage.
This is intelligent and totally engaging theatre which really shouldn’t be missed. Like a virtuoso violin concerto, it wraps you up in its sounds and senses, and remains with you long after the final bows have been taken.