Last week’s production of Moths written by Declan Green impressed with compelling performances from John Kennedy as Sebastian and Keira O’Flaherty as Clarissa, and is an achievement by directors Sophie Cairns and Aoife Meagher.
The play tells the story of two fifteen year olds and the cruelty they face at the hands of their schoolmates. Sebastian and Clarissa are outcasts; Clarissa is an angry emo, while Sebastian is socially inept, with a comic book obsession and awkward habits. It is Sebastian who suffers most at the hands of the school bullies, while Clarissa is marginally higher up the social ladder. The duo spend an evening drinking Fanta mixed with vodka in the park, which this leads to a physically abusive incident followed up by humiliating exposure on social media, and sets the ball rolling for Sebastian’s mental breakdown. His breakdown consists of delusions about bombing the school, running away with a backpack stuffed with comic books and a moth in a jar he believes is St. Sebastian. The quasi-religious experience and breakdown was a bit contrived for me, but this production handled it well and rendered some of the more clichéd aspects intensely moving.
Molly O’Cathain triumphed in her decision to use a minimal set, which contributed to the bleak atmosphere of the play while allowing the brutality of the dialogue to shine. Minimal lighting effects were used to flood the stage with white and yellow lights to evoke the eerie prophetic qualities of Sebastian’s religious experience and cast ominous shadows on the back walls. A deft use of spotlighting and paper falling as moths provided a subtle backdrop for the dramatic final breakdown, and Clarissa and Sebastian’s grungy, ill-fitting school uniforms were all that was needed to bring the performance to life. Moreover, innovative blocking meant there was never a dull moment in this two-man production.
Moths is difficult to watch, chiefly because of the coarse, abusive language. It is clear that bullying is only half of Clarissa and Sebastian’s problems. They appear to suffer most through their treatment of each other. Where the script provided difficult viewing, impressive acting made up for it. Kennedy and O’Flaherty gave convincing performances of confused teenagers, looking for friendship and possibly more, but who can barely interact, let alone relate to each other.
In addition to their own roles, Kennedy and O’Flaherty were required to play multiple characters, and they most impressed with their seamless shifting between characters. Their energy and enthusiasm displayed itself through the distinct characteristics they adopted for each role. Kennedy’s soliloquy must be mentioned for his striking ability to shift between deadpan composed and the erratic Sebastian, and he is one to watch with a commanding stage presence and convincing delivery. At times O’Flaherty’s role as the school emo was perhaps a little contrived with an exaggeratedly sulking attitude, but her metamorphosing into the school bully was terrifying and her intensity is praiseworthy.
Overall, Cairns and Meagher should be proud of their thought-provoking and highly recommended rendition of this play.