27 March 2018

Moonfleece at Pleasance Theatre was perfect

The Pleasance Theatre is hidden in a yet to be gentrified area of London just of the Caledonian Road which I had walked past a few times when based at Kings Place (back in the days or extensive walks during extended lunch breaks) but which I had not signed up to. Then my Google Alert for "Ridley theatre London" alerted me to the pending arrival of Moonfleece and I subscribed to their newsletter.

A couple of months later and I was on the Piccadilly Line to Caledonian Road. My research earlier in the day informed me that the theatre was above a pub, The Depot (appropriately named from  its recent use), which boaster a gastro menu, that is one without pound signs and big numbers with no decimal points in them. My Fiorentina Pizza cost 10 and took over half an hour to arrive but was delicious.

Front of house at Pleasance surprised me. There was a decent bar and generous seating which excelled those of some more mainstream theatres I frequent (no names!). I had had one pint with my food in the pub so I settled for an ice cream, also taking into account that there was not going to be an interval.

I waited casually at the bottom of the stairs and was the first person into the smaller of their two performance spaces (they will soon have a third) and claimed a seat in the middle of one of the two front rows facing each other. That seat cost me 17, a bargain in anybody's book.

In between those seats was a simple room in something of a mess. It was quickly established that this was an empty flat on the top (21st) floor of a Council block. Squatting in it was a young woman and making their dramatic entrance by smashing the door down were two young men in identical grey suits and red ties who were working for Avalon an alt-right party campaigning in local elections.

The situation got as messy as the room soon afterwards as an Avalon leader arrived soon followed by an ex-girlfriend, her current girlfriend, a massively camp journalist and a psychic librarian in a wheelchair, followed later by another alt-right leader (step brother to the first), his Towie wife and, finally, the first woman's boyfriend and street storyteller.

With that mix lots of things could happen and lots of things did.

The play started as a confrontation between the alt-right young men and the young female for foreign squatter. Sparks flew and the young woman gave as good as she got. One of the Avalon team was very pit-bullish and was a good source of humour.

Gradually the story changed to being about the Avalon leader and then about his real brother, the one in the Moonfleece jacket. There were other stories bubbling around arising from the various partially shared histories of the many characters. Finally it was the story teller who brought things to a close by revealing some unpleasant truths in a powerful improvised story.

Moonfleece had lots of familiar Ridley elements and reminded me most of Piranha Heights (piranhas got a passing mention) and Ghost from a Perfect Place. It was deeply East London in geography and feel, had people trying to make sense of the past, had significant elements of myth and was very strange yet close enough to reality to be believable. Ridley's plays manage to be complex, engaging, fantastical and relevant all at the same time. I find them an immensely rewarding experience,

Because of this Philip Ridley is one of my absolutely favourite playwrights, which is why I have that Google Alert set up, and so I was always likely to enjoy Moonfleece. I enjoyed it even more thanks to the excellent cast, all ten of whom were spot on in capturing their characters, and the staging that set the scene precisely.

This production of Moonfleece was perfect.

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