Does theatre have a responsibility to move its audience? I think how people answer that question will shape how they feel about Daniel Kanaber’s new play, Under Three Moons. It tells the story of Michael and Paul in three vignettes, traversing their teens, 20s and 30s. In the first act, we learn they are often thrown together because their names are next to each other in the register. Michael, played with an impressive sense of world-weariness by Darren Kuppan, is a classic case study in impotent rage, seemingly on the verge of a complete meltdown, held in check as much by social strictures as by Paul (Kyle Rowe) who bounces between bravado and vulnerability in a way that is familiar to anyone that has ever worked with teenage boys or, dare I say, most men.
What really stands out when watching this play is what is not said. This is helped immensely by Adam Quayle’s direction, which achieves the distinction of having the play move along at a slow enough pace to draw out each character’s discomfort without ever feeling laborious, and Chris James sound design which adds a beauty to the production in an unobtrusive way. Both Rowe and Kuppan excel at letting the silence seep into the theatre, to the point that the awkward silences felt like a third character. Rowe as Paul seems to be constantly struggling against invisible constraints, trying to break free from some unknown oppression. If pressed, I would argue that the oppression that both characters are struggling with is masculinity itself. More specifically, it is the pressure to conform to an acceptable standard of masculinity that seems to cause stress. This is shown in the final act where Paul and Michael have a furious yet silent foot fight (so as not to disturb the baby) or when Michael holds Paul in a headlock but tells him to “take care of yourself”. The play is full of these small moments where both characters, unable to communicate with words alone, let their silence or physical interactions do the job for them. The inability to communicate in the first instance and the frustration that comes with it is teased out expertly by both actors. This care means that the play never falls into the trap of being heavy-handed or didactic.
To answer the question I posed at the beginning: theatre doesn’t have a responsibility to move its audience, but when it does it is amazing. Under Three Moons is one such play and is absolutely worth going out of your way to see.
• Under Three Moons is a Box of Tricks Theatre Production. It is currently on tour and will be visiting: York Theatre Royal on 22 October; Live Theatre, Newcastle on 25 — 26 October;
Theatr Clwyd, Mold on 28 — 30 October and Rosehill Theatre, Whitehaven on 2 November