Review: ★★ Moormaid, Arcola Theatre

Review: ★★ Moormaid, Arcola Theatre

Like any good piece of art, MOORMAID seeks to challenge its audience and sets out to explore the controversial and provocative issues of terrorism and radicalised youth. However, also like any good piece of art, it opens itself up to subjectivity and no matter how open-minded and introspective people may be, they will still have their own preferences and limits.

Set in present day Berlin, disillusioned artist and teacher, Melissa (Sarah Alies-Shahkarami) is just about to end her life when ex-pupil, Mehdi (Moe Bar-El) turns up at her doorstep; following a two year hiatus. Unbeknownst to Melisa, Mehdi is haunted by the ghost of friend Khan (Ali Azhar), who is stuck in the ‘in between,’ relying on Mehdi to help him cross over. There is something very watchable about Alies-Shahkarami, who manages to strike an interesting balance of innate strength and raw vulnerability, with Bar-El and Azhar injecting some much needed energy into a very intense piece. The attempt of writer Marion Bott to create a play that deals with such current, taboo issues deserves to be commended, however, this could and should be pushed even further. A lot of questions still remain regarding the events surrounding Khan’s death, and no explanation is given as to why and how the boys become radicalised in the first place, leaving it difficult for the audience to sympathise with them.

At the centre of MOORMAID is the nature of art, in particular the works of The Androgynous (artwork involving the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics). This ambiguity is reflected not only in the translucent corridor of Sophia Simensky’s set design, but also in the play itself, resulting in an overriding feeling of confusion – the title of the play still remains a mystery. Furthermore, Melissa spends most of her time cracking walnuts, a process referenced throughout the piece; the reasoning behind which is unclear. There is bound to be an explanation behind why writer Marion Bott and director Zois Pigadas made certain choices but they cannot demand the audience to perceive all those hidden meanings, especially when it is so abstract. In the same way, the painting of each other’s bodies, although very interesting to watch, doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose and comes across as rather pretentious. What is clearer though is the choreography from Jess Tucker Boyd – the sequence in which Melissa & Mehdi begin to paint, captures perfectly the freedom and the expressive nature of art. Similarly, the repeated movements used when these characters make love, is fascinating to watch; their bodies becoming one, just like the androgyne.

For whatever reason, MOORMAID becomes overly convoluted, which is a shame as such relevant topics deserve a platform. However, if art is subjective, then a glowing commendation will surely juxtapose this 2* review, but on this particular occasion, MOORMAID proves more style over substance.

Chloe Hoey

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