Brighton Fringe Review: Earnest and the Pale Moon, The Old Market

[Contains spoilers]

As Ernest stares through his window at Gwendoline, so too does Thomas, both men transfixed by her ethereal beauty. When Ernest and Thomas catch sight of one another, things start to get very dark indeed. A case of mistaken identity results in an accidental murder, or so it seems…

Unmistakably reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart, and presenting as a macabre mixture of Hitchcock’s Psycho and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Ernest and the Pale Moon promises a terrifying tale of a man driven mad by guilt, and the unfortunate events that come to those who surround him.

Sudden flashes of strobe lighting will have you jumping from your seat, while a multi-talented cast of actors-come-musicians from Les Enfants Terribles will keep your eyes fixed frontwards. Through the use of clever lighting, music, foley effects and set design the cast present a spine-chilling exploration of jealousy, remorse and the fragility of human sanity.

The deliberately crooked set seems to almost crumble around Ernest, played by Anthony Spargo, as he quickly loses his grip on reality and becomes engulfed by memories of his evil deed. Rachel Dawson as the Nurse is disturbingly distant and almost takes pleasure in the characters’ misfortunes. She also provides haunting musical accompaniment on the cello and various other musical instruments, which she does so expertly. Adding to Dawson’s musical embellishments is David Ahmad on the accordion, who plays the love-struck but naïve Thomas. Laura Matthews’s childlike and somewhat simple Gwendoline provides a kind of black comedy to the proceedings, her doll-like face freezing in a scream as she is brutally murdered by the unhinged Ernest.

Though the cast take it in turns to add musical flourishes, Dawson’s melancholy cello tones shine through as she gazes lasciviously from the shadows, scoring the play’s death, destruction, and Ernest’s descent into madness with cut-throat precision.

The shameless macabre may prove a little too cliché for some, with the characters’ stark white faces, the chromatic tones of the cello and the candlelit stage, but it is also arguably part of its charm. The somewhat derivative nature of the plot is redeemed by the razor sharp and innovative production and design, and above all, a clever twist. Ultimately, Ernest and the Pale Moon is classic horror; a hallucinatory, voyeuristic nightmare that never lets you drop your guard.

Earnest and the Pale Moon played as part of the Brighton Fringe.

Amy Squirrell

Amy Squirrell

Amy is an arts and culture journalist based in Brighton. She blogs about current affairs and chats to artists about meaningful things. She is also a cellist.