Man on the Moon
- Gareth K Vile
- 4 March 2019
Personal journey through a daughter's experience of her father
Many of the most interesting questions proposed by Keisha Thompson's autobiographical exploration of fatherhood within the Black British experience go beyond the performance itself to examine the potential of contemporary theatre as a medium for the discussion of ideas and identity. Using a simple structure – a monologue interspersed with songs – Thompson uses a journey to visit her emotionally, if not geographically, distant father to consider how his eccentricity reflects deeper social issues. While it runs long at over an hour, and introduces concepts that are not always fully explored, it rides on Thompson's charm and singing skills, portraying a troubled yet tender relationship between the reclusive and sometimes toxic father and an optimistic, confident daughter.
Thompson's use of numerology as a shorthand to describe the changes in her father's life – she considers his only true love to be for God, and the times that he changes his name symbolise the father's attempts to delve into his spiritual and racial identity – is a smart foundation for her reflections on how his parenting has shaped and failed her. A parallel use of astronomical imagery culminates in an uncharacteristic and spectacular scenographic coup de theatre, when her sofa becomes a spaceship, and emphasises how alienated her father has become: the final scenes, which move from naturalistic observations of shopping, catching buses and travelling through Manchester in the run-up to Christmas into magic realist science fiction, picture him as an almost supernatural being, floating in space, changing age and levitating. Thompson's own emotional conflicts are mirrored in the darting, elusive and sometimes incoherent poetry of her monologue, a stylistic flourish that is both eloquent and frustrating. Despite a measured and consistent pace, the journey receives no resolution.
Man in the Moon is most persuasive as an introduction to a series of ideas – 'cultural displacement, religious confusions, political paranoia, misplaced masculinity' – through a highly personal story. These ideas are only partially developed, intruding on the emotive recollections of her childhood and her conflicted memories about her father's conduct. Performance itself is merely a point of origin, the first steps towards wider understanding and debate, and Thompson's refusal to draw concrete conclusions is philosophically admirable but dramaturgically disappointing. Equally, the extended time is frustrating, reiterating similar ideas and scenes without developing an argument or conclusion. And while Thompson's writing and singing are wonderful, her presence lacks enough confidence during the monologues, relying on her charm and direct address to the audience to sustain the story.