Cramming all 11 characters in Philip Ridley’s Moonfleece onto the small stage of the Pleasance’s second space is quite a challenge, but it’s one that director Max Harrison rises to with considerable aplomb in his compelling revival for Lidless Theatre.
Kitty Hinchcliffe’s set – a dilapidated East End flat with graffiti scrawled on the walls – feels overcrowded at times, but Harrison keeps Ridley’s dialogue swift and sparky throughout, and to be honest, a little clutter doesn’t matter with a play this good.
Moonfleece, which premiered in 2010, was written for young people, but it’s got something to say to everyone. Less surreal than much of Ridley’s work for adults, it traces the rise of a far right political party – think the BNP or the EDL, St George crosses and shaved heads – and uncovers devastating repercussions within the fascist founding family.
Curtis (a swaggering James Downie) returns to his old home, knuckle-headed henchmen in tow, in order to hold a séance in search of his lost brother’s ghost. Slowly, the flat fills with a cast of unlikely companions – squatters, ex-girlfriends, step-brothers and journalists. Arguments rage. Punches get thrown. Revelations rebound.
It emerges as a smart, timeless riposte to thoughtless nationalism, brimming with the wit and flair of the raconteur, thanks largely to the impressive ensemble. Downie manages the migration from shouty Tommy Robinson-type to hollowed-out emotional husk superbly, Jaz Hutchins is exhilaratingly energetic as a street-performing storyteller, and Rocio Rodriguez-Inniss finds a ballsy humour as his sidekick. A thoroughly absorbing production.