The Man on the Moor

Thu 3rd – Sun 27th August 2017

reviews

Louis Harnett O'Meara

at 14:12 on 14th Aug 2017

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Max Dickins wrote and performed in his one-man show ‘The Man on the Moore’, a sincere and moving account of a child who lost his father and the repercussions it has on the rest of his life. Framing his narrative around the 2014 discovery of an unidentified dead body found on Saddleworth Moore, Dickins composed a subtle meditation on loss and identity for those that disappear and those that remain. Through huge linguistic competence and storytelling ability the themes were dealt with at a level of wit, clarity and sensitivity that is so far unmatched in my experience of the Fringe.

Dickins’s delivery was authentic, dry, and reticent, leaving the focus to remain on his words rather than his person. He was in no particular costume, and nor did he assume a clearly distinct character from himself. At times Dickins would assume the role of a woman or some other figure speaking, changing his voice, his face, his posture, but in the monologue he spoke without much variation in his expression. The performance did not feel like as much to be a play, or theatre – it was a means to conveying a story and a means to a beautiful rumination. His movements were simple, and used to illustrate the speech; however, at times his arms did appear a little too stiff by his side, his physicality too static.

The staging was simple: five chairs lined centre stage and a background display. Only one chair was ever taken. The empty spaces served to illustrate the content of the story. There was little music throughout the body of the show, with Dickins’s authentic tones providing the only focus besides the empty spaces in his speech. The simplicity of the performance aided the story’s strength; less certainly felt like more in this case. His mother’s disembodied interjections toward the end were passable but jarred slightly with the monologue’s clarity, and a couple of times the visuals felt a little unnecessary. It felt as though these features were sometimes chosen out of a slight sense of obligation rather than necessity – the script alone could have taken more of the strain.

It was a shame that the performance I attended had a couple of serious faults that were, for the most part, out of their control. A man’s chair dramatically broke in the row in front of me and he found himself on the floor, shocked, midway through a particularly suspense-filled speech. ‘Well you were right to fall off your chair,’ he quips, out of character, ‘this is a dramatic moment.’ At another moment that could have held serious gravity the visuals fail to come on cue, the stage lights brightening instead – ‘Not working? Not to worry’, he says, about to launch back into the script, when the visuals start up and the lights go out. These incidences unfortunately could not help but effect the overall impression received, snapping my absorption. But besides the performance’s difficulties, I can say that, hands-down, ‘The Man on the Moor’ was the single most powerful script I have had the joy of experiencing in my time at the Fringe this year.

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Neil Suchak

at 19:28 on 14th Aug 2017

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'The Man on the Moor' is a well crafted and engrossing performance centring around the pain of having a loved one disappear. The play follows writer and leader performer Max Dickens as he portrays a man unable to cope with the loss his father. The play sees him search for his father within an ongoing police investigation and eventually he comes to a slow acceptance of the absence of his father in his life.

Dickens’ script is masterfully crafted with subtle yet powerful imagery that really elevates the play to a whole new level. He has a powerful ability to craft images in a way that nods to their sonic power: foregrounding a word’s cadence as much as its literal meaning. And it is this that is the play’s high point - as Dickens is able to harness the power of language to hold the audience’s attention with enchanting effect. This serves to emphasise the subtext of the play - stressing the pain that uncertainty can bring rather than knowing he tragic fate of a loved one.

Script aside the play was beset with certain flaws that detracted from its dramatic impact. Most unfortunate of these was a technical issue that muddled Dickens’ cue to break the sense of tension in the room. This may have been a one-off however, it meant that the engrossing power of the script was broken. Furthermore, while Dickens’ writing was his performance was slightly lacking, with his delivery seeming distant and emotionless. This may have been the point, however, it leaves it feeling like not much of a performance at all; it is more so a live narration of the his conscious rather than being acting. There are visual aids beamed onto a screen behind Dickens from portraits of his father to videos of his mother and these seem somewhat unnecessary - the most egregious case being the videos of his mother talking about the impact of his father’s disappearance. This breaks the tension and does little to add to the beauty of the words spoken by Dickens - especially when the script is so powerful.

Consequently, Dickens’ powerful writing is sadly left seeming a little too distant and the audience is not quite drawn into the emotional side of the message behind this story. There is a sublime play somewhere within this performance, however, the execution serves to break the captivating atmosphere.

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