Monday, 29 June 2015
Theatre review: Luna Gale
But Karlie is violently opposed to her Evangelical Christian mother being given her daughter, and soon Cindy is talking about adopting the baby and cutting its parents off. As Caroline starts to think she misjudged Cindy when she assessed her as a suitable guardian, her efforts to make sure Karlie and Peter get their daughter back start to embrace less ethical tactics.
There seems to be a feeling that Luna Gale is rather bland programming from Hampstead, a fairly generic play about child abuse - a serious topic but one on which better plays than this have been written. And it's a response I can partly understand, as it's hard to call this a must-see, with much that seems familiar. The opening couple of scenes in particular have a feel of flatly and perfunctorily setting up the story as Caroline goes through the necessary questions and ticks the right boxes. And a sub-plot about one of her seeming success stories, Lourdes (Abigail Rose - one of my joint Best Newcomer winners from 2013) reaching 18 and being sent out into the world, never feels well-integrated.
But it's worth sticking with because Gilman is quite good at little twists and turns that send the story off in new directions, and the way Caroline's experience and instincts lead to secrets being unearthed is often surprising and satisfying. It's also interesting to see the writer take on the way churches try to use their right not to face discrimination, to discriminate in their turn and get everything ruled in their favour: Though Caroline is not infallible, it's hard not to side with her when Cindy's pastor (Corey Johnson) is allowed to harass her in her own office; the scene features a stunning moment where the social worker effectively compares god to a paedophile, that had me wondering how that went down in America, if it had been left in the production at all.
I've not always been impressed by Small but here she gives the best performance I've seen from her, in a generally strong cast in which Arnold also particularly stands out: After his initial, virtually catatonic appearance, he gradually and subtly reveals the things Peter will put himself through for his girlfriend and daughter. A couple of obvious and soapy plot developments are frustrating, but while at the interval's big cliffhanger I thought I knew where Gilman, and the lead character's hubris, were going to take the story, I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong in the second act.
Luna Gale by Rebecca Gilman is booking until the 18th of July at Hampstead Theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval