Review: Man on the Moon, Keisha Thompson, Summerhall

Four days before Christmas, Keisha Thompson gets anxious about her father. He’s Caribbean, living alone in poverty in Manchester, and she hasn’t seen him for half a year. He converted to Islam, changed his name and sends her odd, inappropriate books. She takes the bus and has a series of panic attacks that she soothes by gently singing to herself. She muses on the odd obsessions she shares with her absent Dad – numerology, space flight – and she uses them to reach out in her imagination to this remote estranged man. He has two failed marriages, and a history of violence. When she arrives, he has hanged himself.

This subtle, poetic monologue is an exceptionally lucid reflection of what goes on in the soul of a 25-year-old woman when shattered by tragedy. It works by a sleight of hand that that is both disarming and a beautiful artifice. The death itself is simply too violent to include in the narrative except transformed through wish-fulfillment or denial into something else. I have never heard such a heart-rending euphemism for suicide: ’… and there he is, levitating like a sufi…’.

The language is beautiful and eerie. The freckles on her father’s face are like ‘butterfly eggs on a cabbage leaf…’. You don’t realize it at the time, but it is the very detachment with which the image is constructed that discloses the off-stage drama: that’s the face of a man who is dead. These things cant be admitted, and the play unfolds as a sequence of distractions from the distressing reality. Her singing voice is extraordinary: soothing, self-deceiving, mesmeric. And the simple story – taking the bus – is conveyed visually through deft economic gestures.

The play deals with racism, islamophobia, domestic violence, social isolation… but it does so with the softest and tenderest touch as though cherishing theatre, and life itself, as infinitely precious and infinitely vulnerable. 

Excuse me, but this is exceptionally good art.

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