Set in a dystopian, parallel version of 1950s Britain occupied by “the Motherland”, Maggot Moon follows a severely dyslexic 15-year-old, Standish Treadwell.
Adapted from Sally Gardner’s multi-award-winning 2012 children’s novel by playwright Jemma Kennedy, this stage version is wisely rooted firmly in Gardner’s unusual and poetic writing. There’s a real love for language on show, a delight in Standish’s unique way of expressing himself, and “word collecting”.
The vast majority of Jesse Jones’ production is told to the audience directly by James Newton, who plays Standish. It’s a hugely impressive performance: energetic, nuanced and moving. Newton ably moves between the ‘now’ and flashbacks, switches smoothly into other voices to relate dialogue (supported by simple but powerful lighting and sound), and keeps an audience of primarily nine to 12 year olds entranced.
The story is beautifully supported by live drawing projecting on to the back wall of a bright, clean stage. The art is created by James Day, in character as Hector, the boy who moves in next door to Standish and gives him hope, before he disappears, setting the action of the play in motion.
It’s a dark tale, with several moments of violence and intense peril that build to a hugely moving finale. It is refreshing to see a play refuse to patronise a young audience, and the Unicorn Theatre clearly flags more challenging content on its website and at the theatre.
Maggot Moon’s message – of the power of hope, friendship, love, and standing up for what is right – is universal but feels particularly relevant in today’s turbulent times.