It’s hot in the attic, hot and close. We’re in the bedroom of Sebastian, a teenager with too much BO, too few social skills and an obsession with city-smashing anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion. And it’s very, very hot. Sebastian has fallen out with his only friend, an Irish Emo who holds a torch for our impossible hero, and as they banter and argue, dragging out recollections and half-remembered incidents in a haphazard order, a terrible series of events froths to the surface.
Scraps of schoolyard bullying and furtive romance mingle as the stunted lives of Sebastian and Claryssa unfold, mixed with hints of severe depression from her and something altogether more difficult from him. Declan Greene’s dialogue often rings true, but somehow the digressive structure fails to cohere, and for all of its claustrophobic intent, the presentation begins to feel woozily cloying rather than direct and intense. As Sebastian coughs, splutters, chokes and sweats in front of us, we should feel uncomfortably close and exposed, instead, we just feel uncomfortable. The tumbling recollections feel distancing rather than intriguing, the twists and turns too obtuse to hold interest.
There are hints of Columbine and Sandy Hook in Sebastian’s isolation, paranoia and mental degeneration, though the progression of his psychosis feels under-written and the links between his taste in apocalyptic anime and his mystical epiphany underexplored. Sebastian himself is a particularly unlikeable character, and though Greene provides him with plenty of adversity, there is also a strange lack of sympathy for his situation. Jordan Misfúd puts in a strong performance, but Sebastian feels too much like a caricature, too much a conglomeration of unfortunate habits and traits. Claryssa is by far the stronger creation, and Stacey Gregg is superb as she drives herself deeper beneath the duvet as waves of depression engulf her.
With the action taking place in a no-mans land of displaced recollection, the decision has been made to add a reverb effect onto almost every line, giving Moth the look and sound of an extended dream sequence. Occasionally it’s an effective imposition, but the eventual result is rather exhausting. A sleek, oily-black set by James Cotterill and quietly ingenious lighting design from Jack Knowles add considerable class to Moth’s aesthetic, but the direction by Prassanna Puwanarajah fails to sufficiently pin down Greene’s slippery script. With two characters lost in the twisting corridors of memory, what is badly needed is a clarity of intention and tight control of pacing, here we are allowed to meander and what could be strikingly elusive is instead confused and even a little boring.
We’re left with a stifling and echoey argument that fails to earn the right to play with such potent and emotive issues. As events spiral out of control they also hurtle out of the arena of plausibility, and with that, all emotional connection Greene has worked to build breaks down. It’s quite a handsome production, with two great performances and a smart transformation of the broiling attic space, but Moth is a wispy and ultimately rather infuriating piece of writing.