Luna Gale

Rebecca Gilman

Hampstead Theatre

From 13 June 2015 to 18 July 2015

Review by Philip Fisher

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Luna Gale is an issue-led play set in Cedar Rapids, Iowa today and it has to be said that Rebecca Gilman works exceedingly hard to generate those issues.

In doing so, she veers towards melodrama, while simultaneously giving viewers an opportunity to look at two subjects that are practically presented as twin evils, teenage drug addiction and born-again Christianity.

Luna herself is heard but not seen, never leaving her carry-cot despite duty as the catalyst for most of the evening's action.

The seven characters that we do meet are all extreme in different ways. In the opening scene, the baby's teenage parents Rachel Redford's Karlie and Alexander Arnold playing Peter are so spaced out when the undernourished mite is admitted into hospital that there is no way they will be allowed to retain custody.

Tired but dedicated social worker Caroline, played by Sharon Small, is left to pick up the pieces and does her best in trying circumstances.

The obvious solution is Luna's loving grandmother Cindy. However, Caroline Faber's character has a bad dose of evangelical Christianity, believing that the end of the world is nigh and her granddaughter must be saved before the dread day.

In this, she is cheered on by Corey Johnson's Pastor Jay, the kind of sweet-talking preacher who is so popular on Christian TV channels.

Hysterical, self-destructive Karlie and hysterical, delusional Cindy do not get on, making the plight of their daughter/granddaughter that much more difficult despite the surprisingly reasonable behaviour of her father, Peter.

Adding in an extra degree of complexity is Ed Hughes as Caroline's boss Cliff, imposed upon her following the failures and subsequent suicide of his predecessor. He is almost as manipulative as the Pastor and not above behaviour that comes close to blackmail.

Sadly, the one seemingly normal character Lourdes, played by Abigail Rose does an almost instant about turn following her graduation from care, removing any small amount of faith that viewers might have had in the goodness of human nature.

This heady mixture can feel rather like soap opera and the textual contrivances build to excess before some imaginative closing plot twists give the 2¼-hour drama considerably greater depth than might otherwise have been the case.

Under Michael Attenborough’s direction, Sharon Small gives a strong performance as the mixed up social worker, while both Rachel Redford and Alexander Arnold show considerable promise in limited roles.

Rebecca Gilman's message about the flaws in society today and the death of The Great American Dream are worthy and should generate considerable debate. However greater psychological depth would have assisted in some characters' credibility and simplification of the storyline might also have been of benefit.