Sebastian and Claryssa are something of a troubled pair - though in fact it's not entirely accurate to call them a pair - they don't seem to like each other much. In reality they're a couple of misfits thrown together by a shared feeling of isolation. At school she is called an 'emo', a 'lesbo', 'weird', while he is excluded because of his body odour and, it is hinted, his developmental abilities.
The action of the play, which premiered in Melbourne in 2010 and received its European debut at the HighTide Festival in Suffolk in May, is sparked by an incident of bullying whose details are fuzzy. We are mere observers as Sebastian and Claryssa remind themselves what occurred that evening on the sports field and the following day, when Mark undergoes a crisis that leads him to the belief that judgement day is coming and he must spread the word of God.
It's hard to know whether to trust these narrators – the act of telling, and through it the act of sharing, appears at least as important as the facts being transmitted. They themselves sometimes seem to feel unsure of what happened too.
Jordan Mifsud and Stacey Gregg do a fine job of portraying the awkwardness, loneliness of confusion of the young teens as they wrestle with the increasingly bizarre scenario in which they find themselves. As well as playing Sebastian and Claryssa, they play Sebastian and Claryssa playing everyone else – mothers, peers, teachers – and in so doing deftly expose further details of these imperfect lives.
Staged in the round, Prasanna Puwanarajah's energetic, pared down production makes effective use of lighting (designed by Jack Knowles) and sound (designed by George Dennis) to convey the teenagers' dark world. Designer James Cotterill's set consists of nothing more than a black pallet as a playing space, with a piled up duvet to one side of it, but the team do well to create an atmosphere in which the events of the play ring true psychologically.
Australian playwright Declan Greene's script is tightly written; both witty and emotionally acute. But Moth feels more like an exercise in character writing rather than a play. With so much of the piece narrated rather than performed, the audience is kept at one remove from the action. This isn't helped by the fact that the plot overextends itself towards the play's end, Sebastian's actions losing plausibility.
Watching Moth in the claustrophobic surroundings of the Bush's Attic space – which brings new meaning to the term 'black box' – is an undeniably intense theatre experience; it's not ultimately a very satisfying one.
- Jo Caird