“Don’t heckle a heckler, educate through reasonable debate”
I had certain expectations of Moonfleece, largely influenced by the fact that the BNP had roundly denounced the play even before it had opened at Bethnal Green’s Rich Mix, which is virtually a recommendation in itself, and the opening scenes seemed to confirm them with a group of young men, all members of a far-right political party, converging on an abandoned East London tower block and attempting to turf out a mixed-race squatter. But as the tale unfolds, it becomes apparent that this is a tale of secrets and lies, of bonds between families and friends, and the way in which these can be manipulated to support an ideology, however extreme: the politics is in the background rather than the forefront.
The meeting has been called by Curtis, the stepson of a Nick Griffin-like fascist political leader, in the tower block that was his former family home as he is being haunted by the memories and ghost of his older brother. He has asked his ex Sarah to bring a psychic friend Nina in order to conduct a séance to try and get to the bottom of things, but with her arrival comes a diverse group of her friends, including a gay student journalist, and a strident Indian best friend. Curtis is then forced to confront the major emotional crises of his life, namely the deaths of his father and brother and the circumstances that have led to him adhering to his stepfather’s party and its bigoted credo, throwing up the differences in his current friends, also party members, and the more liberal grouping of friends from his old life, surrounding his ex-girlfriend. And then there’s the squatters with a gift for storytelling, who has a story of particular significance to Curtis.
The teenage ensemble do remarkably well with strong confident performances, each creating their own defined characters with ease, although many of them have little to do but react in the final third of the play when there is the sense of clutter on the stage. I was also a little concerned at the callousness with which Jason’s death was treated by some, but then perhaps that it what teenagers are like. Standouts for me were Emily Plumtree as the genuinely empathetic ex-girlfriend and Sian Robins-Grace as the flirtatious wheelchair-bound psychic Nina but the star is most definitely Sean Verey as Curtis. Playing a conflicted teenager
I would have preferred to see more of the step-brother and fiancée, both late arrivals into the show, as they did seem more erudite members of the far-right group as it seemed a little easy to just have the verbal sparring with the less intelligent henchmen. And as impressive as it was, the climactic storytelling performance did go on a little too long: Verey did extremely well to pull the audience back with a heartbreaking final scene.
And it is all cleverly composed in the end, the varying plot strands are woven together to reach a satisfying conclusion, there’s enough humour to keep the darker elements of the tale in balance and it is simply but effectively staged. Infused with a fairytale spirit, Moonfleece is a challenging look at how circumstances out of our control can shape us, especially in emotionally conflicting teenage years, but also in how the potential for change and growth is ever-present, no matter how faint it may seem even with the spectre of fascist politics looming.