Moth review (ATYP, Sydney)

There’s no shortage of theatre made for and about young people that attempts to show the brutal realities and tragic cost of bullying. But Declan Greene’s 2010 play is set apart by its gripping, unflinching and non-condescending portrayal of the brutality that frequently occurs among young people trying to etch out their own place in the world and defend against the attacks of others.

Moth follows two high school students who have found themselves constantly cast outside the popular and acceptable social groups at their high school. Sebastian (Jeremi Campese) is eternally unpopular and obsessed with anime, while Claryssa (Ruby O’Kelly) is a Wiccan (and definitely not emo, she states adamantly) who faces similar social problems.

Thankfully the pair have formed an unlikely alliance and friendship, which has made high school just bearable for the last few years. But one quiet night, drinking at the cricket nets, the pair find themselves under the violent attention of a group of kids looking to rip them down, and force them apart, leaving them isolated from one another.

Sebastian soon finds himself under severe mental strain, and when he finds a strange and mysterious moth in his bedroom, he begins to believe he has a particularly dangerous mission in the world.

Campese and O’Kelly delve deep into the tormented psyches of these two characters while remaining reliable and compelling narrators for the audience. Campese is full of an imaginative playfulness that sits at the core of the delusions Sebastian eventually experiences, while O’Kelly’s Claryssa guards herself with a sincere earnestness. The pair are perfectly in-step, and almost like two sides of the same coin of teenage despair.

Greene’s text is full of fast turns between dialogue and narration as the situations quickly evolve and the edges of their reality become blurry. Director Rachel Chant and her cast may have pitched the action at a level that feels a little too consistently heightened, but it’s always a compelling production, which keeps the stakes as high as they are for teens in these kinds of situations.

Alexander Berlage’s bold lighting design illuminates the mental state of Sebastian, while ensuring Tyler Ray Hawkins’ simple concrete and cyclone wire set converts seamlessly from location to location.

Todd Fuller’s hand-drawn animations match the moodiness of this production, which rings with the truth of real-life.

Moth is at ATYP’s Studio 1 at the Wharf until September 16.

Featured image by Rupert Reid photography

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