If you haven’t been inside The Rose Playhouse, that other seventeenth century theatre on the South Bank, it’s well worth a visit. Unlike Shakespeare’s Globe, the Rose actually stands on the spot where a theatre of the same name stood 400 plus years ago. A small, modern playing space overlooks a vast basement of rocky expanse preserved under inches of water, the partially excavated foundations of the old Rose (which functioned as a theatre until the very early 1600s).
That murky netherworld plays a powerful dual role in The Buried Moon: Miranda and Caliban Reimagined, the Rose’s compelling new two-person play by Laura Turner. When Cal, a re-crafting of Shakespeare’s half-fish, half-man from The Tempest, shines his torch over the railing into that Renaissance abyss, we can imagine the Fens of Lincolnshire – the marshes where the play takes place – as we look out over the shadowy remnants of the Shakespearean theatrical past from which The Buried Moon borrows (loosely) its characters and story. (The Rose was likely the home of Shakespeare’s earliest London premieres; The Tempest was one of his final plays so could never have appeared at this venue.)
In Turner’s adaptation, nimbly directed by Jake Smith, who makes effective use of the minimal stage spaces, Miranda (Georgina Hellier) is a lonely, bullied teen who records voice memos addressed to her dead mother, while Cal (Michael Kinsey) is a social outcast, playing hooky from school in a swamp-surrounded tent in order to escape his alcoholic mother.
Turner refreshingly shakes free of The Tempest’s omnipresent (and occasionally omnipotent) protagonist, Miranda’s father Prospero: “Who wants to be bogged down with parent stuff, anyway?” says this new Miranda. It’s all about these two adolescents, then, and Turner, Hellier, and Kinsey all dig deep, writing and performing a pair of believable kids, struggling on the periphery of their community, awkward and charming as they forge a fervent friendship, drawn magnetically towards each other on the marshes.
Turner’s dialogue usually resonates as real and honest, but she takes a few wrong turns. Two scenes needlessly feature voiceover stage directions – Hellier and Kinsey make it very clear they can act perfectly well for themselves. While the play offers a candid, serious examination of modern-day sexual assault, a scene that probes the definition of consent seems to tick all the talking point boxes a little too neatly. And Cal’s mistreatment of Miranda goes a step further than it needs to, ultimately undermining the clarity of Turner’s contemporary social arguments.
Given the smart, persuasive performances by both young actors, though, as well as the generally easy-flowing directness of Turner’s writing, these become relatively minor quibbles.
The Buried Moon, conjuring up the ghosts of the past as it tackles the hot-button concerns of the present, earns its stripes as a striking parallel text to The Tempest that may well haunt audiences’ future encounters with Shakespeare’s great late play.
The Buried Moon played at The Rose Playhouse until 13 May.