Written by Maryam Hamidi
Directed by Joanna Bowman
Secrets are one of the most toxic things we preserve. But also one of the few things we have autonomy over: ours to control. And when we don’t have control or an understanding over ourselves, well, they become a toxic lifeline.
One of the country’s most fascinatingly talented writers, Maryam Hamidi’s Moonset, a Citizen’s Theatre production, looks to traverse the hormone-strewn minefield of young girls shifting into womanhood and the evolving and sacrificial relationships they encounter with mothers, sisters, friends, teachers, and themselves: aiming to encourage audiences, with a transparent target towards young women, to embrace the fact that life is messy. To experience and trust their emotions and feelings: no matter what they’ve been told about control or restraint, to let the rages, the loves, the anger, and the whole messy ordeal find a way to express themselves.
But friendships are messy, bursting open with the cackles of gleeful innocence and hyped-up confidence – the four main characters of Moonset shower the Traverse Theatre audience with selfies, shrieks and laughter.
Bawdy and bold Gina (Leah Byrne) is often paired with the poised and high-maintainance TikTok aficionado Joanne (Hannah Visocchi) who’s exploited by her much-older boyfriend. With their friend Bushra (Cindy Awor) a Muslim girl discovering her sexuality, limited in who she can discuss this. The trio are thoroughly likeable, each deserving of their fair share of a starring role. Hamidi’s writing threads abuse, trauma, grief, and exclusion within the three as they begin to grow closer and discover they’ve synched. In more ways than one.
But their fourth friend, Layla Kirk’s Roxy, is the central factor to Moonset. Her first period has been later to arrive than the others, and whilst struggling with the worries of her own body, Roxy’s mother Shideh (Zahra Browne) has been keeping secrets about her own battle with ovarian cancer. The pair share a touching mother-daughter chemistry, which takes time to develop – hitting the occasional snag early as the script tries to balance too many avenues of exploration. But where slips of rage from Kirk ground and cast aside the spell-casting plots as a more candid and harrowing, journey of self-discovery for all involved unfurls. It makes for a production with a cripplingly powerful conclusion, Browne silencing the theatre with a presence everyone in the audience can relate to and miss.
There’s a touch of this exposition in these early moments of the writing – significantly forgivable given Joanna Bowman’s pacy direction recognising this and leaning more into the humorous performances and pushes the narrative back on track as it weaves around each of the girls’ life-stories, a bit of a whistlestop tour of Scottish witch-trials and into a more spiritual realm were ritualistic empowerment, control and the onset of puberty cause blood to become a clear and visceral signifier of transformation.
Jen McGinley’s design plays to a gloriously theatrical ramshackle production in this Scottish variant of The Craft. Turning away from the deification of nature in the woods or the stereotypes of the cemetery, these four young women are inspired to form their own coven in a positively charming piece of wasteland. Complete with discarded johnnies, torn-up sofas, and fox shit – but it does boast the perfect spot for a bonfire. It’s occasionally a distracting set – given the number of small jittering props. Often cast in Simon Haye’s cerulean glow, the lighting of the show is unafraid to transition sharply from cold to fierce and intense to accompany the show’s scorching reminder of the fates of those accused witches centuries ago.
Secrecy still lurks in shadows as we uncover more about the girls, but there’s reason to this; though this is a collective piece of the four young women, Roxy is the audience’s guide. This isn’t to say the others have been underwritten, far from it, but they are deserving of their own space. It enables Cindy Awor and the others a direct monologue with the audience, Awor pouring their heart into the opportunity to authentically weave Bushra’s maturing attitude to align with Kirk’s more anxious Roxy, the pair the closest of the girls.
Notably, Leah Byrne’s Gina’s past traumas aren’t divulged – and don’t need to be. Byrne wears their emotions on their sleeve, unafraid for the often brash and quick to aggression Gina to demonstrate a more nuanced backstory and understanding of everything going on – and that deep down, while holding onto the traumas and ‘monsters’ of her past, she possesses respect for others, and carries a killer sense of brave-faced humour in their performance. It’s a similar approach by Visocchi who channels a more sincere and fractured confidence to Joanne, who relishes the opportunity to punctuate with pensive monologues to the audience – empathetic humour and redeeming moment shared with the others, even in the more shocking moments.
Dipping a toe into the realms of the supernatural, Hamidi still grounds Moonset in the plains of reality and the lucid, though has fun manipulating the mistaken ideas and misunderstandings that there is something sinister about menstruation. Archaic notions of fertility, rules of three, menstrual cycles and Magik are all present and offer a delightful touch and aura to it all, but Moonset still emboldens young women with the reminder that life’s difficulties are to be met head-on with more mortal ideas, and that even in the middle of the enchanted firelight and salt-laden pentagrams – the energy and power have always been present, and in the covens surrounding them: mothers, sisters, friends, teachers, themselves.
An Emboldening Aura
Moonset runs at the Traverse Theatre until February 18th. Start time 19.30pm.
The show runs for two hours and five minutes, including one interval. Suitable for ages 14+. Tickets are available from £15 (less with con.) and may be obtained here.