A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

 

The Moon is Halfway to Heaven

 

 


 

by David Kerby-Kendall

 

Directed by Joe Fredericks

 

Jermyn Street Theatre

 

6 Sept – 1 Oct 2011

 

That mist of oyster breath……

A clearing, a space, a bench and a tree, like Jack’s beanstalk, stretches towards heaven.  In the distance there are silhouetted houses which change to high-rise blocks showing the passage of time.  

This two-hander traces the friendship between Jamie and Paul from age seven through to old age. ‘When you die, you stop off at the moon on the way to heaven to have lunch and wave goodbye to everyone on earth’ says the seven year old Jamie (Lucas Hare). He looks to the stars for inspiration. So it’s no surprise that he becomes a fighter pilot during WW2. Jamie still has the same positive outlook in his eighties; show me a boy when he is seven and I will show you the man.

Writer David Kerby-Kendall also plays Paul. Paul is the realist and sometime cynic to Jamie’s spontaneous, imaginative outbursts. He is seen neatly folding his clothes - Jamie leaves his in a heap when he is seven, only to have this fastidious characteristic listed as one of his ‘many faults’ when Georgina divorces him, aged forty-five.  

Play-acting is a theme. It is also the central construct in this many-layered, evocative play. From the gauche whimsy of ‘Lady Fanshaw takes tea’ at seven to the re-remembering of themselves at seven, fourteen, twenty-one, in their eighties, - this need to enact and make sense of things is not only close to the characters’ development, but ours too. Similarly, it is a means of experiencing a different perspective, a catharsis, which is vital to the earthbound, secular, Paul.  

The play-acting in each scene is cyclical and affords Kerby-Kendall the licence to coin some sharp lines. ‘This is supposed to be the swinging ‘60’s; so swing!’ Or ‘some people think Puccini is something you sprinkle parmesan on’, with wry commentary on dog-in-the-bag Chihuahuas, and the musical triangle. Ideas, lines, groupings recur throughout so that the play-acting in the scenes seems like an interlude, a mini-play within a play, fleshed out by an evocative soundscore (Theo Holloway) and projections from designer Paul Burgess.  

A moon-screen with historical or cultural projections denotes the decade which places the characters both in and outside of time: the Charleston, WWII, National Health System, The Stones, Kennedy’s Assassination, ’66 World Cup Victory, The Falklands, 7/7. We are aware that time progresses, yet when Jamie and Paul meet at the clearing, it stands still. It allows them to take stock.  

The best of these sequences is when they are twenty-one during WWII. They are about to go on a sortie: ‘I’ll take you to lunch on the moon,’ says Jamie. Paul preoccupied by the thought of death is still a virgin. So the twin themes of sex and death, like the constellation of Castor and Pollux, lay provocatively near the surface. Kerby-Kendall and Hare capture perfectly the dichotomy between the need for fulfilment and life’s transitory nature, while a lone plane on the screen takes to the skies.……

The clearing is carefully recreated with moss-banks, scuffed patches and autumnal leaves by Burgess. The pair make a notch at either end of the bench when they meet. It is an important, ritualistic moment. It’s here that they philosophise, enact, and prepare for life, war, recover from divorce, celebrate retirement, and eventually face the far side of the moon.

It’s Jamie who tries to quantify their friendship. Yet for Paul it is perhaps more clean-cut but harder to articulate: ‘sometimes the right person is in the wrong person’s body.’ It is credit to Joe Fredericks’ subtle direction here and the finely balanced performances that this is simply presented without any attempt to overplay the subtext - by this stage we get it.

The Moon is Half Way to Heaven is a bitter-sweet evening, heavy on the Kleenex. With a strong creative team, taut, assured writing and compelling performances, I would defy anyone to look twice at the moon and see just left to the Sea of Tranquillity…somebody waving…

 
Jermyn Street Theatre
16b Jermyn Street
London SW1Y 6ST
Box Office:  020 7287 2875
www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk
Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm; Saturday and Sunday matinee at 3.30pm
Tickets:  £15.00; Concessions: £13.00
 

 

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