Moonset review – witchy magic swirls around a sensitive study of teen anxiety
When you see the gang of teenagers who form a midnight coven in Maryam Hamidi’s punchy and poetic new play, you think of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Des Dillon’s Six Black Candles and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Young and volatile, these girls believe they have access to dark spiritual forces – and, as they dance and chant, you hear echoes of the mystery, the prejudice, even some of the comedy of those witchy dramas.
Because of the transitional age of the girls, Moonset also recalls the menstrual themes of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Kate Bush’s Strange Phenomena, carrying the suggestion that the monthly cycle is not just physical but supernatural. This is a play about intimacy, secrecy and esoteric female energy.
Yet for all her carefully threaded ideas about fertility, motherhood and the womb, and for all her glowing descriptions of full moons and raging fires, Hamidi walks a delicate line between the mystic and the rational.
Moonset might appear to be a spooky suspense story about four girls on the brink of womanhood as they gather around a pentangle and chant their spells, but beneath the healing crystals and the uncanny coincidences, it is a sensitive study of adolescent powerlessness. The magic is fanciful but the anxieties are real.
Set in the run-up to school exams, it is about 15-year-old Roxy (Layla Kirk) whose sense of security is threatened by the illness of her mother, Shideh (Zahra Browne) and stabilised by an unlikely friendship with three of her classmates. Roxy is not as studious as Bushra (Cindy Awor), as rebellious as Gina (Leah Byrne) or as wealthy as Joanne (Hannah Visocchi), but, united in their vulnerabilities, they draw similar strength from the occult. What they long for is not really the otherworldly, but control over their uncontrollable lives.
They give spirited performances, even when squeezing through Jen McGinley’s cumbersome junkyard set, and there are moments in Joanna Bowman’s Citizens theatre production that have tremendous ensemble flair. By contrast, the narrative of Shideh’s hysterectomy is more earthbound, a soap-opera sequence of home-cooked meals and hospital visits.
At its best, though, Hamidi’s play captures the flavour of adolescence, with all its uncertainty, impulsiveness and misplaced good intentions.
• At the Tron theatre, Glasgow, until 11 February and the Traverse, Edinburgh, 16–18 February.