The Place, London
December 21, 2017
What the Moon Saw by 2Faced Dance Company artistic director Tamsin Fitzgerald takes us on one young boy’s journey through the night. It’s inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale in which the Moon talks to a young boy, showing him things from around the world. As is usual with the Danish author, while it can be enjoyed at a superficial level, much also has deeper meaning. Expect a retelling of that and you’ll be disappointed, though. Fitzgerald’s Moon actually doesn’t see very much, there being just three episodes, everything happening in one night (Andersen’s runs over 33); and even they take a long time to get going.
After saying goodnight to pretty much everything in his room, including the rug, young Jack literally leaps into bed. Far from being scared of the dark, as we are told in the publicity (there was no programme or cast list), he seems quite playful, creeping up behind his father, who has come along to tidy his room. Quite why you would risk disturbing someone having finally got them to bed is a good question. I also thought it a bit mean to take away the big white teddy he was snuggled up with.
The physicality of the piece is typical of 2Faced. Not being able to sleep, Jack tumbles his way around his room, think indoor parkour, then decides to sketch; for some unaccountable reason, on the walls (please, don’t do this at home, kids). He has coloured pens, but everything is in black and white. Above, on a suspended circus hoop, the friendly looking moon appears. The publicity tells us that the Moon “teaches Jack how to be brave by taking him on an amazing adventure across the world.” So why the lack of interaction between them? So little, in fact, that I actually forgot the Moon was there.
So, to Jack’s three ‘adventures’. First up is a jolly dancing chimney sweep. Not quite Dick van Dyke, but heading that way. No chim-chiminey, thank goodness, but quite what the youngsters made of this hardly modern reference, it’s hard to say. Next up is a yellow sou’wester clad fisherman, who takes jack on a voyage, the bed neatly turning into a yacht. It’s a trip on which not a lot happens.
Finally, we are woken up by designer Yann Seabra’s rather impressive and colourful dragon that appears from the bedroom cupboard, the show again making excellent use of the unconventional entrances and exits through unexpected openings in the super set (Seabra again). Like the yacht, effectively, it’s one of Jack’s stuffed toys come to life. The two dancers who combine to form the beast are quite brilliant; it’s far better than anything I’ve seen in panto in ages. This is a dragon without fire, though, because he’s got a bad throat. I heard no response from the youngsters in the audience, who were actually silent throughout, but it certainly made me smile.
What the Moon Saw closes with colour back in the world, in Jack’s pens, and in the neon strips that adorn the set.
I’ve seen a few dance pieces aimed at children this year, but in comparison to them, I have to say I found What the Moon Saw lightweight and slow, despite the excellence of the performers. The narrative is not always clear, and any number of opportunities for suspense, thrills, comedy, or even to project a message, are passed up. It’s not helped by Angus Macrea’s nondescript, soporific, synthesized, score that lacks totally any memorable melodies or moments.
I’m a little confused as to just who What the Moon Saw is aimed at. The pre and post-show activities seemed targeted at the very young, whereas what happened on stage seemed aimed at those older. Still, the big test is, did the youngsters in audience like it, and they were mostly very young. It’s hard to know quite know. There was certainly no fidgeting, but there was no gasping, cheering, clapping or laughing either. There was lots of applause at the end, though, and the youngsters certainly didn’t need to be asked twice to go onstage to help complete Jack’s drawings. The lovely vibe was almost the best part of the show.