It starts with a suicide attempt and ends with a prayer for forgiveness. Struggling artist Melissa (Sarah Alles) stands on the precipice. With one end of her chiffon scarf hanging from the ceiling and the other wrapped tightly around her throat, she prepares to take the irreversible step. It’s only the unexpected arrival of ex-student, Mehdi (Moe Bar-El) – a bolt from the blue and an old-flame from the past – who forestalls the inevitable and sets in motion Marion Bott’s sometimes beguiling, often convoluted and occasionally touching new play.
Moormaid charts the journey from death to rebirth – artistic rebirth, sexual rebirth and political rebirth. What begins as a tense romance eventually mutates into an altogether more explosive meditation on radicalism, terror and truth.
Bott situates the play in the lounge of Melissa’s Berlin studio apartment, in which everything looks as though it has been ripped from the pages of a catalogue. Sophia Simensky’s design does a good job of capturing the beige blandness of Melissa’s bourgeois surroundings. And despite its domestic setting, Bott’s play soon takes on the strange and unsettling quality of a dream, with Mehdi’s arrival heralding the ghostly visitation of Khan (Ali Azhar) – his deceased brother, who serves as both confidante and conscience for Mehdi’s fragile mental state.
It’s in these exchanges that Bott’s writing resonates to reveal some of the play’s most emotionally penetrating moments, as the brothers veer from tenderness to resentment, bravado to guilt. Azhar and Bar-El display an impressive emotional range and perform with nuance and skill, exuding a genuine rapport that never ceases to captivate.
Still, despite the play’s formal playfulness and Bott’s ability to execute sudden shifts in tone on the page, director Zois Pigadas’ production falls short of capitalizing on the text’s fitful and irregular rhythms. The abrupt changes in atmosphere lack the fluidity and subtlety required of Bott’s writing, resulting in the action becoming stilted and awkward in tone.
Bott’s script succeeds in building intrigue and ratcheting up tension in the play’s first half, but the final revelation comes across as more contrived than logical, with the final moments tending towards platitude. It’s a perennial problem that any play predicated on a delayed and explosive revelation must contend with, and it’s one that Moormaid never quite manages to overcome.
Moormaid is on until 19 May 2018 at the Arcola. Click here for more details.