Directed by Anthony Skuse
Kings Cross Theatre
244-248 William Street, Kings Cross
Season: 5 – 27 May
Human beings obsess over the unknown. We try to pinpoint the uncertain and illuminate the shades of grey. Melita Rowston’s new play deals with this unchartered territory ‘Between the Streetlight and the Moon’, whilst analogising an academic’s uncertainties in her personal life through her frustrating hunt through the art history world for truth. This production succeeds with its well-developed, complex characters who feel plucked out of real life and placed on the stage. Often utilising humour and platforming the honest opinions of each character, the play is very amusing, and draws you in to consider its deeper elements. Whilst a little drawn out overall, Between the Streetlight and the Moon is a lovely production that prompts reflection with the mind of getting closer to the truth and gaining introspective understanding.
Zadie is an academic who specialises in art history. She used to be an artist but gave that up, citing her new endeavour as her true calling. She is academically preoccupied with the idea that the painter, Edouard Manet, had a tumultuous affair with Berthe Morisot, a striking subject of numerous of his paintings. She requires a letter to prove her theory and support her PhD thesis that she has supposedly been working on for a number of years – the male-dominated department at the university is getting impatient. Her student, Dominique, is assisting her in the quest while Zadie’s artist friend Barry gets in the way with his own artistic ventures and Janet, from the department, checks up on Zadie. Along the journey, Zadie is compelled to reconsider her personal history and formative relationships, pushing the production into the realm of self-realisation rather than merely an art mystery.
I relish the humour that Skuse embraces in his direction in the production, sparked by the inherent comedy in Rowston’s script. Zadie (Lucy Miller) and Dominique (Joanna Downing) commence the play with hilariously frank discussion of the fearsome vagina and its place in the art world. Dominique sports a t-shirt with the slogan “Your Hole is My Goal” and giant pictures of artistically depicted vaginas are projected onto the wall. Miller and Downing bounce off each other with ease and prime timing, illustrating a delightful friendship and working relationship between women on stage. Rowston has crafted dialogue that realistically represents the feminist intelligentsia in a way that is both very funny and instantly recognisable. Perhaps these are not ideas that would connect strongly to all groups of people, but I think some audience members would enjoy seeing people similar to themselves or their peers on the stage. It’s not as common an occurrence as you may think. Dominique is a French student studying at the university in London, and Downing’s French accent is impeccable. Difficult to pull off and easy to over-play, it augmented her convincing depiction of Dominique. Suzanne Pereira gives a strong performance as Janet, achieving a balance in her characterisation between her professional obligations and her shifting relationship with Zadie. There is an underlying sense of personal history in their relationship that helps to unpack a different type of relationship between women.
Whilst the play largely unfolds in the present day, parts take place in the abstract, with Zadie having conversations with Jeff, with whom she had a relationship in her early 20s. These parts of the play are critical to our developmental understanding of Zadie, and yet at points tend to drag a little. Generally throughout the narrative, in points of hopelessness or unclear direction the play does slightly lull. Use of Benjamin Freeman’s piano playing to heighten the abstract experience of Zadie and Jeff’s encounters are effective, evoking a slight sense of the fantastical.
Rowston’s play brings forth wonderful characterisations that especially allow its female actors to flourish. Skuse’s direction of the piece elicits compassion, complexity and good-natured humour in a story about a woman who realises she should never have believed the lies society and her peers told her. It excites me to see a production that engages meaningfully in the relationships women have with each other, and bringing a female experience to the forefront. Crucially, I make no claim to the depiction of a universal truth or there being an ‘everyman’ (or ‘everywoman’) character. This is because it doesn’t exist, with varying experiences of being a woman at different intersections of life. An unlearning of the constructions imposes on women is, however, an important process in the pursuit of self-actualisation. This, I applaud.