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Garden On The Moon
Mudlark Theatre
Earl Arts Centre

October 19th, 2022

If there was one aspect from our collectively self-imposed isolation that we have become accustomed to over the last few years; it is the understanding that there are more unknowns in our relatively short existence than we come to expect. I remember finding myself questioning what my world would look like without theatre. I’ve spent periods of solitude exploring the unknown qualities of my psyche and utilizing them to transform myself. Like planting a seed and watching it grow, these unknown moments or connections with a stranger we discover, could bloom into a remarkably beautiful garden.

Mudlark Theatre’s world premiere production of Stephanie Briarwood’s Garden on The Moon captures a snapshot of seclusion and refocuses it into an interplanetary story of kinship. Briarwood’s script began life with the question “What’s happening over the fence?” and applies the many unknowns present in the human condition to bind the hearts of our two lead characters together. Briarwood, whose previous work with Mudlark (2021’s Caravan, Boat, Treehouse), likes to bless us with stories that provide a momentous slice of reality rather than a formulaic beginning/middle/end story structure, and combined with the comprehensive direction of Leigh Oswin, perfectly delivers this mysterious moment in time that feels as ordinary as it is transformative.

Livia (Played by Sara Cooper) and Retho (Played by Michael McStay) live in adjoining backyards. Livia, a seventy-year-old widowed hermit, appears to be stuck in a daily routine, answering the constantly ringing phone calls from “Batty Old Marjorie” and searching desperately for her missing dog, Toby. Retho, a younger and more unusual young man, lives in her neighbor Mr. Pearson’s garden shed and spends most of his time nurturing a small tree to full health or stuck glued to his iPhone. Once their paths cross, they strike up a very unlikely connection, as both Retho and Livia contemplate their unknown place in the world.

Both Cooper and McStay are spectacular. Their interplay is effortless, instantly sharp-tongued, and ferociously comic which slowly evolves into an intimate and harrowing fragility that harnesses us steadfast onto their fear of the unknown. Mcstay’s Retho is a quirky and naïve space oddity, unexplained and unfamiliar to us and himself. McStay concocts a dreamlike physicality as he bounds around the stage with boyish endeavor. His flighty “Alien Swan Lake” movement and the positions he finds himself in, provide immeasurable physical comedy and accentuates the mystery that lay behind him.

As expected, Cooper was astonishing, as we observed the hard-nosed Livia’s human walls come down before our very eyes. As Retho removed the fence separating their two lives, Livia’s defenses diminish, and we see the strength this new human connection gives her. She uses this as an outlet to heal and to grieve the loss of her husband and of her dog, Toby. Cooper’s ability to bewitch an audience and draw you in with something as simple as a gesture or inhalation of breath, is unrivalled in Tasmania. She’s captivating to watch and agonizingly sincere as the vulnerability of Livia, desperate for connection resonates with anyone who has felt desperately alone.

Retho and Livia’s story is threaded together by an outside force, an overarching storyline filled with the unfamiliar. Ross Hay, the third, and by all intents and purposes, hardest working actor in the piece; plays an eccentric radio announcer and doubles as a skilled puppeteer. Between quick costume changes, racing backwards and forwards to the radio desk, and puppeteering Toby the Dog and Mr. and Mrs. Pearson over the back fence; Hay brought a charming, offbeat meta-theatrical magic to the production. There were often direct fourth wall breaking nods to the audience and futile attempts at interaction with the set. His more preposterous and extravagant delivery of some the more banal parts of the script, along with his boisterous energy, cleverly kept his omnipresence just out of reach, like the creator of “The Truman Show.”

Leigh Oswin’s direction reaffirms his status as one of Launceston’s finest, being able to examine and highlight the luxurious language and beautiful characters afforded to him by Briarwood. His deft directing was unmistakable in the polished and slick staging and the performances he conjures from actors.

The outright star of this production however is the technical team consisting of Darryl Rogers and his awe-inspiring set and AV design, Katie Hill’s puppet design, Chris Jackson’s sound design and Darren Wilmott’s lighting design. All four were at the top of their game and united the show in an astonishingly striking and magical way. A few minor technical hiccups for opening night didn’t hinder the technical prowess shown. This set design is for me, the most exceptional design of the year; every element of the adjoining backyards is grey and reminiscent of the face of the moon. This might have been dull and monochromatic on a first look, but the use of AV projection mapping, elevated these pieces to something new, throwing elements of magic realism into the mix. Working in tandem with the lighting, this set became a fourth character and completely transformed the Earl Arts Centre into a Garden on the Moon.

Garden is a triumph for Mudlark, another giant leap forward for a company that has already been making waves for longer than a decade. Their continued effervescence to foster the arts community by providing consistent, high quality professional theatre year after year is only strengthened further, when producing work like Garden on the Moon; a stunning look at how we connect with each other and continue to foster new life and new love.

Was this show grounded in realism you ask? No, just pure Magic.

Review By Matt Taylor

Garden On The Moon (2022): News
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