The first full-length play from writer Phil Ball, Moth Hunting is a comedy that very much sums up the expression, “You can’t choose your family.” Sisters Ann (Charlotte Baker) and Sue (Kathryn McGarr) are about as different as two women can be, and their relationship is on decidedly shaky ground – despite the best efforts of their mum Gill (Verity Richards) to smooth things over. When the three of them find themselves on a girls’ night “mothing” in the woods, tensions inevitably begin to boil over.
With Greg Spong’s attractive woodland design setting the scene, Rosie Snell’s production is a perfect fit for a drizzly autumn evening, and provides an enjoyable hour of entertainment that most of us will be able to relate to on some level. It’s also educational; who knew that moth hunting was a thing? Not that our characters have a lot of success on the mothing front – they’re generally too busy bickering to pay much attention to their surroundings, and it’s only when something bad happens that they’re forced to pull together and tentatively begin to build some bridges.
Though it’s undeniably a comedy, and largely a very successful one, the play does also delve into some more serious territory as it unpicks the family history and gets to the bottom of their troubled relationships. Bereavement, marital problems, and references to alcoholism and both physical and mental illness, are handled sensitively within the script – and although the play ends on a positive note, there’s no unrealistic suggestion that in one night the characters have managed to clear up years of resentment, or that all their problems have suddenly gone away.
The fraught relationship between the three women, with all its ups and downs, is well portrayed by Kathryn McGarr, Verity Richards and Charlotte Baker. While the differences in their personalities ensure plenty of laughs, there are moments of connection too, which makes it much easier to picture them as a family – however messed up that family might be. They’re also joined briefly, but memorably, by Gareth Turkington as Sue’s amiable husband Sid, whose arrival is as unexpected as it is entertaining.
If the play has a flaw, it’s in the way it frequently removes one character from the stage so that the other two can talk in private. While this works, it begins after a while to feel a bit contrived, particularly since the third character has a way of always reappearing just at a crucial moment in the conversation. The play’s conclusion, too, comes very suddenly, leaving several unanswered questions in its wake about the events of the evening.
Nevertheless, as a lighthearted comedy about a dysfunctional family, Moth Hunting is a great watch. It’s skilfully directed and performed and with plenty of belly laughs to be had – though I’m not sure it’ll have me running off to the woods to try moth hunting any time soon…