‘Ruby Moon’ was mind-bending.
‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ meets an episode of ‘Twin Peaks’. That is what comes to mind when describing Matt Cameron’s ‘Ruby Moon’, currently being presented by Vena Cava Productions at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre. This chilling production follows grieving parents Ray and Sylvie Moon as they desperately investigate the disappearance of their daughter Ruby, taking any potential answer as fact. The production moves in circles, with both characters arriving at the same conclusion with each scene – they know nothing and never will. However, in this circular structure audiences unpack these characters and understand the true horror behind the scenes. ‘Ruby Moon’ is a psychological thriller like no other.
Vena Cava’s production plays off the script’s highs and lows flawlessly, ranging from the play’s downright bone-chilling content to the moments that come off as a little ridiculous, but it seems that the cast is always in on the joke. While it does feel like the play is going in circles with minimal purpose, by the end you feel there was a reason for it all.
Parents Ray and Sylvie Moon, played by Harrison Port and Tayla Rankine, brought nuclear chemistry to the stage. Both were incredibly compelling protagonists, and in a street of lunatics, the parents who still try to find their daughter after a year of silence come off as the most sane. Cameron’s script contains several interesting takes on the grieving process, and the effect one’s grieving can have on others. Not only that, but it calls into question the general public’s reactions to missing person cases. ‘Ruby Moon’ shows us how these people really feel, and their opinions on the titular missing girl are less than favorable.
Heavily utilising the conventions of magical realism, the technical team behind ‘Ruby Moon’ did a stellar job at crafting a new world for audiences to briefly glimpse. Emma Hanson’s set is remarkably dreamlike, featuring mismatched old furniture, with a strangely modern art-deco backdrop. Two windows sit at either side of the stage, giving the audience the impression they’re peering into the Moon house. The disconnected windows, and the full moon hanging overhead just adds to the dreamlike quality of the production.
Lighting designer Caleb Bartlet and sound designer Morgan Cole-Jones craft an atmosphere that unnerves the audience. The constant changing of the moon’s LED colours to match the characters on stage was a brilliant decision, and added to the vaudeville-esque style of the play. The use of spotlights brilliantly generates the dark, nightmarish atmosphere that Cameron’s script desperately asks for. With each spotlight, the actors’ faces are covered in shadows that make them look borderline inhuman. This effect is heightened by the dissonant humming provided by the show’s sound design.
The use of voice-overs throughout the play added another creepy dream-like layer to the production, with the occasional giggles of a little girl echoing throughout the theatre as if Ruby herself was sitting right behind you.
Ellie Waddingham’s 1950s meets modern costume designs added to the overall effect, making this world feel familiar yet distant. The technical crew behind ‘Ruby Moon’ all work together seamlessly, with every element playing their part to create a unique theatrical experience.
Directors Ruby Shannon and Annabel Gilbert are clearly having a field day with Cameron’s script; every subtle dialogue moment or minor detail is brought to the forefront in a way that makes the audience consider every possible outcome that the play could lead to. The delightfully unhinged performances from its leading cast add to the insanity of the play.
Tayla Rankine and Harrison Port shine as Ray and Sylvie, with Rankine providing a mix of vulnerability and aggression that leaves the audience on edge whenever she begins to spout her latest theory about where her daughter is. The way she moves throughout the play is deeply human, wringing her hands, or shaking. The same can be said for Port’s performance of Ray, as a man who is barely holding himself together. Throughout the play, you get the impression that Ray is a ticking time bomb, and Port elevates this brilliantly.
‘Ruby Moon’ is a tricky play to get just right in terms of performances, with clinically insane characters that could be portrayed as deathly serious, or farcical caricatures. The directors have found a way to tow the line perfectly through their supporting cast, who range from uncomfortably weird to laugh-out-loud hilarious. Each actor gets one scene each to shine on stage, and they all make use of their time. Sabrina Williams as Dulcie Doily, a mad church-goer with a parrot, is hilarious in her character’s hypocrisy, and has the audience in the palm of her hand.
Miguel Usares plays mime Sid Craven like a friendlier Pennywise, bringing a touch of sensitivity that makes him feel like a child stuck inside a grown man’s body, as opposed to the usual creepy clown schtick. Not only that, his energised physicality throughout his sequence is incredible.
Mackenzie Dick as seductress Veronica Vale provides a pivotal moment in the play with Ray Moon, and her performance feels like something out of a dream. Through her characterisation, paired with her beautiful singing voice, her character feels almost like a siren.
Sarcherance Sitagata was hilarious as veteran turned dog owner Sonny Jim, and provided some of the biggest laughs of the night with his impeccable comedic timing. He knows exactly when to pause to deliver a joke.
Milena Barraclough Nesic makes the audience wildly uncomfortable with her giggling portrayal of doll-maker babysitter Dawn Berger. Her character was incredibly unhinged..
Finally, Nicholas Hargreaves as Carl Ogle makes you think back to Doc Brown from ‘Back to the Future’ in his quirky portrayal of a mad scientist who left the audience guessing at every turn. All these actors work brilliantly with one another, and you can feel the chemistry oozing off the stage, a chemistry perfectly tamed by the directors.
While Matt Cameron’s ‘Ruby Moon’ can often feel like it’s going everywhere and nowhere at the same time, Vena Cava productions have managed to elevate the script to new heights and collectively send chills down the audience’s spines. As their first main house production of the year, this is certainly setting the bar high for what’s to come. ‘Ruby Moon’ was a mind-bending play, featuring stellar performances, a brilliant set, and atmospheric lighting and sound design. It was a rich mystery, and a brilliant character study of how grief affects one’s psyche.
‘Ruby Moon’ performed until Saturday, 30 April 2022 at QPAC. For more information on future productions visit the Vena Cava Productions website.