Review by Isabel Zakharova
You should always seek to improve yourself, no matter at what cost. There is no love purer or more natural than a mother’s love. Ignorance is bliss.
These are just a few of the ‘pernicious ideas’ explored in Subtlenuance’s latest production, Morning Star. What is a pernicious idea? According to director Paul Gilchrist (Blind Tasting, All the Difference), it’s a “way of looking at the world that initially appeals to us because it appears helpful and positive, but which ultimately just adds to the sum of human misery”.
It’s certainly an exciting and unique motif to build stories from. And the uniqueness doesn’t end there. Morning Star is not a singular play, nor is it a collection of short plays. Rather, it is a cohesive work made up of five different tales, by five different writers. Each story is linked thematically, and performed by an ensemble of performers. The result is a thought-provoking production examining a wide range of topics, from casual racism to the harmful effects of capitalism.
The ensemble was strong, with each actor performing multiple characters and seamlessly transitioning between stories. Cormac Costello was outstanding in his role of a capitalist patriarch, later playing a young baby just as convincingly. Sonya Kerr showed strong emotion and conviction in her haunting portrayal of tortured new mother Jeanne Weber, while Zoe Crawford brought hilarity and versatility to her role of an overly safety-conscious housewife. It was great to see that even in a cast of nine, each performer had their moment to shine. The actors worked well together, elevating the production with moody soundscapes and captivating shadow puppetry.
However, as each story only required a few actors, the rest of the ensemble often simply sat at the edges of the stage, watching along. I found this to be a missed opportunity, as some stories could have been strengthened by greater participation from the ensemble, such as using physical theatre to create a sense of location. Evidently, the cast was very talented, and there were certain moments where their talents weren’t being showcased as much as they could have been.
The multi-playwright structure of Morning Star proved to be engaging and interesting. With five different writers come five different stories, ideas and ways of looking at the world. While each tale was strong and provocative in its own right, I found that there was an over-reliance on characters speaking to the audience instead of interacting with each other. The result of this was that some scenes became overly didactic and too ‘on the nose’. At one point, one actor spoke directly to the audience about the pernicious ideas underpinning the production. I found this to be quite over-explanatory, and would have liked for the writers to leave some things for the audience to figure out themselves. Despite this, the performance flowed well, and it was refreshing to see a theatre production dealing with important issues so fearlessly, rather than side-stepping them.
Overall, Morning Star is a powerful, relatable and engaging production, which is likely to spark interesting conversations among audiences. Those who enjoy the First Horn of Morning Star should absolutely return for the Second Horn, which will explore another set of pernicious ideas