Theatre Review: The Moors at Melbourne’s Red Stitch Theatre brings much needed humour to the Victorian era

The Red Stitch Theatre is utterly beguiling. I’m not sure if it is the fact that they are staging a play set in the Victorian era, or the inviting smell of mulled wine that makes me want to talk like this, but one thing’s for sure, it’s fitting. Affectionately dubbed ‘The Red Shed’, Red Stitch is an intimate space, with a limited number of seats and a quaint little stage so close that you find yourself having to repress the desire to jump and belt out a rendition of “Livin’ on a Prayer”.

Stephen Nicolazzo’s current production of the Jen Silverman play The Moors makes perfect use of this wonderful space. The play provides a satire on the isolated lives of the Bronte sisters living in a remote part of the foreboding Yorkshire Moors. It chronicles the arrival of a new idealistic Governess who upends the repressed and bleak family home, as we explore the stilted and sexually repressed lives of sisters Agatha and Hudley.  This is the Australian premiere of the show, which debuted in America in 2016.

Eugyeene The’s set design effectively reflects the sparsity of this life. Utilising simple green satin curtains and a reflective black floor, you’d be forgiven for believing you’d uncovered the Slytherin common room. The use of smoke and light adds to the sheer inhospitable emptiness of the landscape, though a times had me worrying that we may be interrupted by a visit from the Fire department.

To this backdrop an excellent ensemble cast bring the miserable sisters to life. Alex Aldrich’s Agatha makes Wednesday Adams look like a Playschool host, whilst Anna McCarthy brings some much appreciated levity to the show as Hudley the idealistic younger sister, desperate for attention. Her rendition of a folk-style ballad she has penned about herself provides a particular highlight. The sisters are aided by their begrudging housekeeper, Marjory, (Grace Lowrie) who clearly studied at the Basil Fawlty school of hospitality. When newly arrived governess, Emilie (Zoe Boeson) bursts onto the scene with her flaming looks and cheerfulness, she upends the sister’s maudlin lives irreversibly. No spoilers here, but the scene before the interval between Agatha and Emilie is especially compelling and will have you wondering where on Earth the story will possibly go in the Second Act.

The sister’s story is intercut with interactions between Dion Mills as a mastiff dog whose conflicted internal monologues would put Hamlet to shame, and Olga Meekeva as an innocent injured Moor Hen. The performances were so believable, that it had me wondering how method the two actors must have been in preparing for their roles as animals.

Overall, Nicolazzo’s production demonstrates a clear fondness and understanding of the era, and is a hilarious pastiche of the lives of one of history’s most successful writing families that is not to be missed. The two elderly women seated next to me perhaps summarised it best at the interval, when they remarked “it’s certainly unusual, but I can’t wait to find out what happens next.”

The Moors is playing at Red Stitch Theatre until 9th July. For tickets, go here.

The reviewer attended on Sunday 11th June. Photo credit: Teresa Noble.