The Vaults, London – until 24 November 2019
The subgenre of plays that fall under the loose heading ‘people sit and talk, nothing much actually happens’ is one with which I have a difficult relationship. When they’re good, they can be profoundly moving and beautiful things. When they’re short of good, I tend to find myself trying to sneak a look at my watch every ten minutes or so.
Ages of the Moon by the late American playwright Sam Shepard definitively falls into this category. Two older men sit on a remote porch waiting to watch an eclipse, getting pissed and chatting a mixture of memory and nonsense. Their stories interweave as they each try and insert themselves into the other’s past and everything gets steadily hazier. But in terms of action or, strictly speaking, plot, there’s little to report.
Now, there’s no question that Shepard’s writing is good. It’s lyrical, it captures that very certain sort of melancholy that’s linked to age and memory, it sounds nice on the ear too. It’s funny sometimes, though not as often as perhaps it ought to be. The confusion between fact and fiction is a pleasing head scratcher throughout.
But for me there’s just something missing. It doesn’t feel like there’s anything behind this pretty writing; no tension, nothing bubbling away. A few times I thought that a big dramatic reveal was coming but each time nothing came of it. I briefly developed a theory that one of the characters was an imaginary physical manifestation of the other’s mental illness, but alas I’m pretty sure I was wrong. By the end of the hour long run time (and I’m really not sure the play could carry itself if it were any longer) I was left pretty underwhelmed.
If this was true of the play, though, it wasn’t true of the production. Director Alexander Lass has done about as good a job as I can imagine it’s possible to do with this play. His production is well pitched and well paced. Holly Pigott’s design is brilliant, so evocative of complete isolation, and Jai Morjaria’s lighting is really beautiful. I loved the backlit effect for the eclipse.
The cast is anything but underwhelming too. Christopher Fairbank and Joseph Marcell (aka Moxey from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and Jeffrey the butler from Fresh Prince of Bel Air) are not an obvious pairing but kudos to casting director Ellie Collyer-Bristow for bringing them together. Both are individually great (with fantastic, drawling accents) and together they really sparkle. The chemistry is perfect and they dominate the slightly odd space that is The Vaults-as-straight-theatre. I loved watching them and – again – it’s hard to imagine this piece being acted much better than they do here.
To sum up then, whilst Ages of the Moon isn’t really a play for me you’d be hard pressed to see a better version of it than this one. And if you’re a Sam Shepard fan it’s a must.
Ages of the Moon is at The Vaults until 24th November.
My ticket for this one was kindly provided by the production and would normally cost £25. The seating is unreserved, I sat on the front row (and got dripped on at regular intervals).