BWW Reviews: MOON TIGER, Rose Theatre Kingston, February 25 2014
Sometimes the sum of the parts just don't quite add up to the whole - in theatre as in any other aspect of life, the scales can get a little lopsided. And, if the parts of Moon Tiger (at the Rose Theatre Kingston until 1 March) are tremendous, the whole isn't.
Jane Asher is charismatically compelling as narrator Claudia, as sexily convincing as a flighty thirty-something as she is scowlingly cynical as a tiring sixty-something. She gets excellent support from a cast who move effortlessly through multiple roles, with Jade Williams impressing as Claudia's cowed daughter Lisa. The back projections set the scenes unobtrusively and there's wit and wisdom in Simon Reade's adaptation. After a slowish start, Stephen Unwin's direction gathers pace, tying together plenty of loose ends in the second half.
The play tells the tale of Claudia's life, from not quite comfortable middle-class childhood to irascible, cancer-stricken old age, as she looks back on a life full of incident (as her doctor says, "Yes. She probably was somebody"). There's plenty of the contemporary zeitgeist floating past, as Claudia tracks her journey from cradle to (almost) grave, but the main themes are history, language and war. Claudia is a serious but non-academic historian, hostile to television's simplification of the subject (but not film's). She loves language and speaks English beautifully - if, occasionally, rather reminding me of Mrs Thatcher both in tone of voice and in unbrookable opinion. War defined her life - losing her father in the First World War and the love of her life in the Second, in which she was a Lee Miller-like presence in the Press Corps of North Africa.
So there you have the parts - why the lukewarm reception from this reviewer? I guess I never really got to connect, nor even empathise, with the characters. None were villainous enough to dislike; none were warm enough to like. Add that awkward distance to a plot the ending of which is signalled from the first minute, and I was left waiting for a new take on wartime love, middle-class motherhood, historical writing - or any of the multiple big ideas introduced in the play's sweep of 77 years. I confess that I found nothing new - so even if the parts were done ever so well, the whole left a hole where the heart should be.