Reviewed by Lee Farley
There are a number of questions to answer when adapting a novel for the stage, not least of which is, “Why not just read the book?”.
Recently, theatre companies have used different theatrical methods to address this question – “War Horse” has its puppets to reflect the scale of the story, “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” skilfully utilises Frantic Assembly?s physical theatre techniques to reflect the state of mind of its main character – so what does “Moon Tiger” bring to the genre?
The answer is a comparatively prosaic, literal adaptation. Simon Reade has lifted the text wholesale from the book and jettisoned some structural aspects which could have been exploited for more theatrical impact.
In the novel, we are occasionally offered a viewpoint from characters other than Claudia, but the play gives us her story only.
This seems a missed opportunity as Penelope Lively?s excellent story is one of perception and interpretation.
The novel asks us to consider how we can arrive at a definitive version of history when every story is so personal and contradictory.
It might have been interesting to see, as the novel shows us, the same events from different angles. Director Stephen Unwin?s approach to the text is ostensibly minimal – four chairs and five actors tell the story.
However, he also incorporates projected slides and sound effects which are, once more, prosaic. A scene set in Egypt is accompanied by a slide of the pyramids.
Mention of God brings up the Sistine chapel. You get the idea. The audience are being told the story and spoon-fed every reference; there?s no space for us to do any thinking or work for ourselves.
Claudia?s story is a monologue interspersed with brief scenes from her history, in non-chronological order.
There is, inevitably, a slide to tell us what year we?re in and where in the world we are. The actors are undersold by this methodology; they hold our attention, not the slides & sound effects.
The story should belong to them; our interest would be held more readily if they were to be given more responsibility for atmosphere and energy.
Jane Asher?s Claudia captures the aloof disdain of the home counties upper-crust, but struggles to engage us on a human level. Much of her speech is directly addressed to the audience but her one-dimensional character is difficult to identify with and the rest of the cast struggle with under-written roles and an unimaginative staging.
The play has a laborious structure and lacks rhythmic energy; whole scenes pass by without any drama or atmosphere.
In answer to the question, “Why not read the book?”, I?d suggest that the answer would be, “Read the book.” It contains a more interesting way of telling this story.