There are some incredible strengths in this latest production from Edinburgh’s most inspiring new theatre company. The cast are really good: James Boal (Mr N Pattie) offers a layered portrayal of masculine vulnerability, well matched by the pleasing sweetness of Kate Foley-Scott’s red-cheeked Ms Runes; Rosie Milner is the personification of cool and dismissive arrogance as Ms C Rotum, while Lara Wauchope’s focused vitality ensures she’s the vital driving motor for the whole production. Beyond this astute casting, director Jack Elliot also very successfully makes the most effective use of Blazing Hyena’s regular venue (the Wee Red Bar in Edinburgh College of Art) including the on-site furniture, and must be praised for the apparently late-in-the-day decision (going by the company’s early promotional images) to have all the cast made up with white faces. Above all else, there’s an intoxicating air of uncertainty and menace – personified most clearly in Conor Mainwaring’s baseball-bat holding Nio Fectin – which holds the attention from start to finish.
So, while Langtree’s script is genuinely thought-provoking, it’s unfortunately not necessarily in the best way.
But – and, yes, there’s always a but – there are undoubted weaknesses too, nearly all of which can be laid at the door of playwright Sean Dennis Langtree. Living Like A Moth comes across as a wannabe Beckett-esque allegory of one man’s battle against cancer, written by a writer with really good taste but not yet the creative abilities to match them. The cancer allegory is most obviously seen in the characters’ names, which are not-at-all-subtle anagrams: N Pattie = patient, Hemco = chemo, Runes = nurse, Rotum = tumor, Nio Fectin = infection. There’s also an at-times almost unbearable earnestness in the attempted philosophising within this “cell-driven world”; a few moments which would have been risible without the heartfelt seriousness with which all of the cast approached the script.
Over the course of some 80-odd minutes, we see our central character Mr Pattie knocked too and fro (occasionally literally) between the main aspects of cancer and its treatment – from the general weakening of muscle tissue to the loss of hair. There’s obviously some authorial wish to build a wider metaphor for life in general: “Nothing is easy; not least a rocky chair,” is a line given great import by the characters and yet remains – if you think about it – a remarkably strange thing for anyone to say.
So, while Langtree’s script is genuinely thought-provoking, it’s unfortunately not necessarily in the best way. Giving artistic creativity to the embodiment of cancer, for example, feels an odd choice, while Ms C Rotum’s final interactions with “chemo” and “infection” do seem rather simplistic. The result is that Living Like A Moth, while clearly a very considered script, is unfortunately nowhere near as good as it thinks it is. Which is a shame, not least because of the energy and dedication the Blazing Hyena team have devoted to bringing it to life.