Review by Simon Sladen
Written in 1992, Harold Pinter's Moonlight is said to have been strongly influenced by his mother's death in October of the same year. Nineteen years on, and in his directorial debut for the Donmar, Bijan Sheibani stages Pinter's play in all its glory.
Juxtaposed either side of the stage lie two beds: one straight out of the Laura Ashley catalogue, the other resembling Tracey Emin's famous creation. In the freshly laundered bed lays a decaying old man, whilst his son, young and fit, echoes his posture, very much alive, but surrounded by squalor.
Andy is dying. His wife Bel sits by his side crocheting. They talk. They reminisce. They argue. Andy will soon be dead and as he sits, awaiting his impending fate, he recalls what has constituted his rather disappointing life.
Does Andy live or merely exist? What does it mean to be alive? One is only truly alive if conscious of death's existence. Imprisoned in bed, Andy strives to vent as much as possible before his time is up, but as long as Bel participates in his bitter conversation, death will be kept at bay. Moaning gives Andy a reason to live and throughout the course of Moonlight Pinter uses a series of conversations to expose the family's sorry past as their patriarch comes to terms with his future.
In the roles of Andy's children Jake and Fred, Daniel Mays and Liam Garrigan appear as two spiffingly good chaps complete with surreal dialogue and a penchant for performing. When their mother rings to inform them of their father's situation they answer 'Chinese laundry?', having cocooned themselves in their own fantasy land in order to avoid confronting reality. Although we never learn why they escaped their parents' clutches, their absurdist behaviour represents a quasi-coping mechanism; living through role play in order to escape the harsh reality of life.
Old man Andy is brought to life by David Bradley who deftly exposes the innate comedy present in Pinter's use of demotic argot. A cross between Victor Meldrew and Scrooge, complete with catchphrase 'Bollocks to the lot of them', Andy is a lovable rogue, hardened by life's harsh path, who seems all the more happier when asserting his miser status or moaning about something.
Deborah Findlay plays his suffering wife Bel, forever longing for some compassion. Findlay not only excels when reciting some of Pinter's more witty dialogue, such as the conjugation of the verb 'to piss', but she also manages to capture a very palpable sense of grief. Still mourning the loss of their only daughter Bridget, Bel is also mourning the perhaps more painful loss of their estranged sons. Although they have not been taken from this world, they have been taken from hers. When her husband dies she will truly be alone and not even the empty words of Bel's middle class and somewhat caricature in nature friends Maria (Carol Royle) and Ralph (Paul Shelley) will provide the comfort needed for a life in isolation.
Moonlight questions what it means to be alive, whilst all the time suggesting that death may be a welcome escape. Andy may well soon be gone, but he will never be forgotten. Memories never die and as Bel prays for a reunion with her boys, Andy will soon be reunited with their daughter. Knowing the conditions under which the piece was originally written inscribes Moonlight with greater sense of poignancy, making it one of Pinter's most engaging and revealing pieces. With superb acting from a stellar cast and a haunting sound design courtesy of Dan Jones, the Donmar's Moonlight ensures that one of the country's greatest playwrights shall never be forgotten.
Playing until 28th May 2011