‘Ruby Moon’ was ambiguous.
Perhaps nothing is quite as tormenting as losing a child, particularly when their disappearance is never solved. A timeless and deeply frustrating piece, ‘Ruby Moon’, was presented at NeverLand Theatre by Moreton Bay Theatre Company this past weekend. Whilst previous renditions have opted to focus on mental decay, this production gave the show a playful tone, which created an unnerving contrast to the dark content of the story.
The story, by playwright Matt Cameron, incorporates a blend of theatrical styles including surrealism, dark comedy, and absurdist theatre. With themes of tragedy, grief, and chaos permeating the plotline, ‘Ruby Moon’ tells the tale of a couple dealing with the disappearance of their young daughter. In revisiting the events of that tragic night, the couple unravels new truths, and seek to place blame wherever it may fit. To further alienate the audience, the spread of characters is performed by just two actors, adding to the ambiguity of the plot; particularly the emotionally-crushing unresolved ending.
In order to create a sense of unrest among viewers, music box sounds and children’s laughter was incorporated. These motifs in theatre tend to reflect both youth and insanity depending on their arrangements, and in ‘Ruby Moon’ the ambiguity of their placement left that critique to the individual. The use of door knocks added another layer of unease, but also gave the staging depth, as its wings became hallways, and one room becomes many.
With nods to Little Red Riding Hood throughout the text, it felt natural to incorporate a range of bold red props and costume pieces. These were not only used to distinguish between the various roles played by the two actors, but also played a role in linking the start and end of the plot in a circular style. Specifically, the props and costumes were shifted from a coat rack to different locations across the set at the start, then in a mirror of blocking and order, returned to the coat rack at the end of the show.
Directed by Susan O’Toole-Cridland, the small cast never felt stagnant on the set. Shifts in characters were reflected in shifts in stage location, body and voice. The transitions into these new roles was a clever directorial choice, allowing for a cave-to-modern-man walk and use of three concise beats. The overall nature of the story was made youthful by higher voice tones and eccentric body language, marking a shift from the often evoked madness of the play. O’Toole-Cridland has added her own signature to this piece by placing emphasis on the vulnerability of the female partner and attempting to place blame upon the male by giving him less confidence in his own memory of events. In doing so, however, it came across that the couple were coaching rather than recalling, that they were preparing their “stories” for the police, rather than looking for the actual truth.
Gary Farmer-Trickett, in the role of Ray Moon and others, gave the role an innocence with his soft vocal tones and gentle demeanour. In many scenes, he was overpowered by his partners stage presence and drive, but this imbalance added to the drama and complexity of their relationship. Farmer-Trickett was particularly strong in his portrayal of a disillusioned young neighbour, giving a disturbing depiction of a man stuck in boyhood.
In the role of Sylvie Moon and others, Sandra Harman was engaging and worrisome. At times her eyes would float off whilst her voice and body told a different story. Her portrayal of a woman disconnected from reality was poignant. This considered, she used the numerous roles to showcase her acting abilities and comedic timing. In one instance she played both a mad religious woman and her parrot, just one of several clever dark comedy moments which helped audiences lighten their reactions.
‘Ruby Moon’ is a complex and deeply disturbing piece. With clever direction from Susan O’Toole-Cridland, mature acting from Gary Farmer-Trickett and Sandra Harman, as well as finely orchestrated soundscapes and aesthetic components, the show has been given grounding. While the overall plot remains open to interpretation, and this rendition continued to emphasise this, there were key take-home messages – stay wary, mind your children as best you can, and help your partner in the process.
‘Ruby Moon’ performs until Sunday, 8 September 2019 at NeverLand Theatre, North Lakes. For more information visit Moreton Bay Theatre Company’s Website.