Moon Tiger, Theatre Royal Bath and touring

Moon Tiger - Jane Asher as Claudia - Photo credit Simon Annand - (ref37)SIMON Reade’s adaptation of Penelope Lively’s book Moon Tiger, chosen as a favourite tome by thousands of readers, just does not hang together as a play.

The production, which opened in Bath at the start of a seven week provincial tour, is directed by Stephen Unwin and at its centre is Claudia, played by the remarkable Jane Asher. It is played on a simple set with a bed, an effective back projection screen, and wooden chairs, on which four of the six actors sometimes sit  when they are not part of the action – a device which can increase dramatic tension, but here does not.

The story, for those unfamiliar with Lively’s 1987 Booker Prize winning novel, is of a writer dying of cancer, spending her final days trying to write her own History of the World. She explains that her own memories abhor chronology, and her story of love, incest and wartime heartbreak unfolds via the mind of a woman whose brain is confused by pain-killing drugs.

It must have been very difficult to adapt this complex and subtle book for the stage, and often Mr Reade has been overly deferential to the voice of the author, underlining aspects that should be evident in the performance, at the same time omitting many of the details that would make Claudia a sympathetic character.

At the end of two hours, the audience – though impressed with Jane Asher’s performance – just didn’t care about the characters in this version performed without variety of pace or any real tension.

By casting two actresses remarkably similar in colouring and physique, and dressing them almost identically, their characters (mother, daughter, teacher, friend, nurse) became merely ciphers.

Christopher Brandon managed some real emotion as Gordon and the Elderhostel tourist American.

I longed for some layers of feeling from Tom, whose one-dimensional performance by Tim Delap failed to convince even in the eloquent descriptions of the desert.

This was the moment of true love for Claudia, but the passion was not sudden and urgent but languid.

Whether this is the fault of the adaptation or the direction I can’t be sure. But Moon Tiger has a long way to go before it will set the West End on fire, even if a theatre can be found.


Photograph: Simon Annand

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