Friday, April 01, 2022

The Half Moon – stories of uncompromising women whose hearts lie in Tiger’s Bay (Green Shoot Productions, community tour before The MAC 6–10 April)

The Half Moon is inspired by the lives and stories of women from Tiger’s Bay over the last hundred years. Women with a pride in their area. Women who looked out for one another.

Alice Malseed spent a year meeting people in the area and listening. And armed with those recollections, experiences, hopes and disappointments, she has crafted together a play that allows the audience to hear from four generations of women.

These are strong women, and they get to tell their own stories over and above those of the men around them. During the world wars as well as the Troubles, women provided the backbone of many families and communities. Yet history tends to be stuffed full of the exploits of men.

Malseed’s previous work has been exciting and memorable. In The Half Moon, she avoids creating some kind of sanitised or sanctified family. Instead there’s always a side hustle, often one on the wrong side of the law, but crucial to earn some extra cash to keep life afloat. The crossing of boundaries isn’t accepted without question. There’s always an accompanying explanation of why certain choices were taken or opportunities denied, and each generation is seen to draw firm lines over which they will not step.

Into this world strides actor Ruby Campbell, who skilfully meanders through the family tree of Ethyl Williamson, a woman whose ambition was nearly stymied by a school teacher and frustrated by her absent father.

Soon Campbell walks past the setting sun at the back of the stage and we discover that baby Jeanette has grown up and is working in the same south Belfast B&B that had employed her mother. The physicality changes with each new generation. Campbell shares her characters’ hopes and fears, stresses and desires as the Troubles and religion start to shut down work opportunities, and we pick up with Sarah and lastly Pam.

It’s a great piece of character acting by Campbell. There’s rarely a moment during the hour-and-a-bit-long show for Campbell to catch her breath, and as the decades roll towards today, the dancing becomes frantic and while the voice and accent stay fairly constant, the language definitely becomes more spicy.

The Half Moon has a pleasing, gentle circular rhythm to its choreography, the stage and even some of the plot points. Stuart Robinson’s looping sound design fits in well too, though sit too near the PA speakers and it threatens to overpower Campbell’s voice in the earliest and one later scene. Pai Rathaya’s spiral set doubles as the top of Cavehill as well as a coal bunker during the Blitz. Emily Foran’s direction makes intelligent use of the limited space and builds on some of the near-poetic rhythms in the script to refresh Campbell’s performance fresh at key junctures in the narrative.

You don’t need to be from Tiger’s Bay to recognise the storylines. The tension home versus wanderlust is universal. The ability to love a place, value its community, yet judge its weaknesses and desire to be free of its burdens is a familiar one across Northern Ireland. Malseed has once again demonstrated her mastery of storytelling and ability to craft stories. Foran does justice to the words, bringing them to life through Campbell’s sympathetic portrayal of these Tiger’s Bay characters.

Produced by Green Shoot Productions, The Half Moon finishes its tour around the corners of Belfast with performances in Shaftesbury Community Centre (Friday 1 April) and Cultúrlann (Saturday 2 April) before a residence in The MAC (Wednesday 6–Sunday 10 April).

Photo credit: Johnny Frazer

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