You might be forgiven for imagining that a dramatised mid-80s novel starring a hugely popular actress, would be all lightweight theatrical sweetness.
Imagine again. Penelope Lovely’s 1987 Booker Prize winner Moon Tiger centres upon a great sweep of 1920s-1980s history, as recalled by a dying writer focusing on her own experiences, desires and personal tragedies.
And yes, it is an extremely good night at the theatre with a mesmerizing star performance – by Jane Asher. But also it’s a moving, thought provoking play which sends you home questioning.
Claudia (Asher) is a formidably strong and intelligent woman, beautiful and single-minded to the point of selfishness. She grew up unnaturally close to her brother, became a popular historian and with WWII, a war correspondent.
In Cairo she meets, then loses, the love of her life a tank commander. Post-war she has a fitful relationship, and becomes an indifferent mother to a daughter.
With these and many other characters from a large book with a long time frame, adaptor Simon Reade, director Stephen Unwin and designer Timothy Bird faced a considerable challenge. How to make it all work within the short duration of a play?
Their solution is simple but effective. The action takes place around Claudia’s hospital bed, with the cast seated about, ready to instantly become main characters or assume minor roles.
Fast, sustained and varied scenes take on the book’s general theme. History isn’t each nation’s own myth around ‘facts’ and dates. It’s messy, confused and uncertain. And when it comes to each individual’s history, the mind replays personal memories along with current thoughts.
So slices of Claudia’s life keep coming regardless of period, adding information, all made crystal clear by an ever-changing year clock and projected photographs. Together they form an insightful and satisfying whole.
Of necessity Asher frequently acts as a narrator, and sometimes I felt that in the transitions to more intimate scenes, characters failed to connect.
Alternatively, one could argue that strong minded, upper-class people then, did not wear their hearts upon their sleeves. And emotion is fed in by the late discovery of a wartime diary and Claudia’s real - if characteristically blunt, attempt to reconcile with her daughter.
Moon Tiger is a worthy addition to theatre history. And in addition to Jane Asher, a fine cast includes Hilary Tones, Christopher Brandon, Philip Cumbus, Jade Williams and Tim Delap.
Three others deserve a mention: Lee Choc Thornton, Philip Mercer and Nicole Warfield are the jazz trio which encored a welcome new Everyman feature - the introduction of live pre-show and interval music.