It’s a dangerous place, school, and the wisest of us create armour to bring us safely through what can be one of the most trying times in our lives. We become bullies or intellectuals, teachers’ pets or the classroom rogue. But what if none of these options are open to us?
For Claryssa and Sebastian, the protagonists in Declan Greene’s award-winning 2010 work Moth, their schooldays aren’t so much ‘the best years of their lives’ as a study in ritual humiliation, social exclusion and, eventually, emotional collapse.
Sebastian (Jordan Mifsud) is obsessed with death and sci-fi, while Emo Claryssa wears her angry, pubescent angst like a burka. The two have an unlikely friendship that often seems based on mutual disdain, their only common ground being that they’re both outcasts from their peer group. Their constant sniping is the cement that holds them together until a pivotal moment changes the rules for good.
When Sebastian is savagely beaten by a gang, his psyche develops its own shell in the form of an ecstatic vision in which he becomes St Sebastian the Martyr. What little commonality that he and Claryssa had is tested to its limit by this tragic development.
As Claryssa, Belfast-born Stacey Gregg offers a confident and accomplished performance, belying her usual function as a dramatic wordsmith in her own right. Her Claryssa is a moody, intense and feisty creation, a perfect counter to Mifsud’s increasingly erratic Sebastian. He’s a departure from the emotional mess of his Australian predecessors (Moth was originally devised by Melbourne’s Arena Theatre Company), even if his oft-remarked personal hygiene problem remains. Neither character is particularly likeable and it’s little wonder that they’re ostracised.
Prasanna Puwanarajah directs his small cast with eminent skill, although occasionally there might be clearer delineation in the scene-hopping that would aid the audience’s understanding of this convoluted piece. However, the story gets told and we walk away with a more capable understanding of the challenges facing a teenager in the modern education system.
James Cotterill’s design is a simple though effective one and brought to life beautifully by Jack Knowles’ innovative lighting design. Played in the round, Moth is surely one of the highlights of an already impressive High Tide line-up before transferring to the Bush Theatre.