An action-packed graphic-novel fiction fantasy by Declan Greene is about to erupt at Theatre Works – Moth is a love-letter to every teen… and to those who used to be.
Directed by Briony Dunn, Moth spotlights a climactic bullying incident that devastates a friendship forever. As the mother of a teenager, Dunn is keenly aware that bullying is still rife in schools. “Having kids of my own meant I saw school kids at primary level be taught anti-bullying policies and behaviours, which included excellent tools my generation weren’t taught, she says. “It seemed to be mostly working, as far as I could tell.”
With her oldest now in secondary school Dunn has heard bullying does still very much exist, which naturally worries her. “We can keep teaching teens acceptance of others, but a large part of being a teen is trying on different behaviours until they find which behaviours fit well with them, so it may never go away completely. The grown-ups who surround these teens need to be vigilant or we’re letting them down.”
Dunn was initially drawn to the work because she was looking for something that would challenge her in its use of theatrical form via the dialogue itself and, as always, something that would be a feast for some brilliant actors to get their teeth into.
In this funny and heartbreaking two-hander, what starts as just another night drinking down at the cricket nets soon gives way to an ecstatic vision that leaves fifteen-year-old Sebastian unconscious and his only friend, Claryssa, gone. Waking to find a mysterious moth by his bed, Sebastian spirals into a breathless ride of schizophrenic delusion and religious passion, living life at a feverish pitch that can only lead to tragedy.
“Declan’s play is a gift to any team on a technical level, and creatively,” she says. “When (Executive Director) Dianne Toulson at Theatre Works sent me the play and asked me to read it, it was one of those moments where it was a yes, the second I finished it. Plus, I know the team at Theatre Works really well having worked there (Dunn was Literary Manager where she helmed the She Writes collective and founded the Radical Acts playwriting festival) and trust the team and organisation. It feels like home to be there.”
Set inside the head of one of the characters, the play treats space and time like interchangeable entities, jumping between locations at break-neck speed within each scene. Stylistically, this provides a wonderful technical challenge in taking the audience through those rapid shifts.
“It’s been a real delight analysing the text to find out when does the space shift, when does the time jump, and are they aligned or separate from each other? Films such as Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and Inception are examples of this.”
Moth blends elements of graphic-novel fiction, anime, and religion with themes of mental illness, social isolation, and teenage angst. This means that both lighting and audio design will be a pivotal story telling component.
“Knowing what an inspiring text Moth is for the lighting and sound design creatives working on this ticked a lot of boxes, ” says Dunn. “I was keen to work closely with sound and lighting designers Darrin Verhagen and Nik Pajanti again.”
One of the characters, Sebastian, is anime obsessed so that was the inspiration to look at the edits of anime, and that then led the team to the storyboard-like panels of graphic novels as a way to understand the lighting and audio shifts in the space.
“We’re about to enter the theatre, so we’re all keen to see how those elements work with what we’ve developed in rehearsals. To combine the elements of theatre and see what we can create.”
The work is a two-hander so luckily Dunn loves working with small casts. Having worked with casts of all sizes up to 18, but with a small cast, she says, you become more of a family with the team being able to frame the work more specifically.
Another brilliant feature in the work is the structure of the text and character journey are reflective of the relationship between a Moth and light. Whereby the teens are the moth and the light the high school social world they flit awkwardly on the edge of. Dunn acknowledges that she has been challenged to trust the rapid rhythm within the piece. “It barrels along, and you need to trust that once you’ve detailed it and are ready to speed up,” she says. ” The tension holds beautifully, as long as you trust it.”
Ultimately hopeful, Moth reflects that teens have the potential to rise above the challenges of their reality by imagining a world where they have control of narrative. An absolutely pivotal thing for Dunn as her wish is for audiences to love their teen self a little more – and to be open to those moments in life when they need to step into a difficult situation to help someone, rather than backing away.
Says Dunn, “This is a frenetic ride where you will witness two young actors give powerhouse performances.”
Spotlighting a climactic bullying incident that devastates a friendship forever, this much-lauded, rapid-fire, and deeply moving production is brought to the Theatre Works stage in 2023 by an exceptional team of creatives. A true highlight on the Victorian Arts Calendar, not to be missed.
The season runs on 2023 World Schizophrenia Day (24 May) and during Schizophrenia Awareness Week (15 to 22 May) and is also an addition to the VCE Drama Playlist
May 17 – June 3