The Malthouse Theatre offers Melbournians a welcome opportunity to catch one of last year’s sell-out successes, Declan Greene’s Moth.
Produced with director Chris Kohn’s Arena Theatre (artistic director), Moth is an innovative and original impression of adolescence. In the seriously intelligent and yet entirely accessible way it confronts the confused ground between mental illness and teenage angst, and in the way it theatrically figures and naturalises the behavioural aspect of social media, this was and still is a banner play for Melbourne’s vibrant avant garde theatre scene.
Claryssa and Sebastian are losers. Not in the sweetly endearing way typical of teen movies, but in the aggressively despised way that only registers in our cultural consciousness when something awful happens, like a teen suicide or a school shooting spree. Sebastian stinks. He is weak in his body and in his personality, the runt of the class, and stupid too. Claryssa is a gloomy emo. She is mean and sullen and beats up on other girls, always wearing an oversized, shapeless jumper to hide her weight. All they have to get them through the school day is one another.
There is something peculiarly lateral about the staging—something unexpectedly simple and yet decisively authentic. The set consists of three long strips of carpet which hang down from the back of the stage and then run out to the footlights. It’s rough and grungy and suggests all sorts of urban decay, with the torn edges and holes punched through. But when the overhead lights drop and a fierce spot shoots narrow beams through those holes, like divine arrows, the surliness of it is transformed into a convincing analogue of the sublime.
The imagery, too, like the fractured layers of consciousness which Claryssa and Sebastian climb through, or the principle figure of the saintly moth which is not so concrete as to banish the mystery of it, but not so obscure as to disengage from the themes.
What it all points to, I think, is the mature introduction of ecstatic and visionary themes. So often in this sort of theatre, theatre created with an eye for a younger audience, artists reach for the sublime themes—the end of the world, the coming of a chosen one—searching for an affected gesture of ultimate significance, something to heighten the bland reality of the suburbs, something that will scream, “Yes, all this will end too!”
There is certainly something of this longing in Moth, but it is presented without hysteria. The imagery is always subordinate to a carefully mapped formal structure and grounded by the authenticity of its characterisation.
This production is largely faithful to the original, with most of the same production team. The major difference is that Thomas Conroy now plays Sebastian instead of Dylan Young, but that substitution does not affect the overall feel of the piece.