A couple house-hunting in North London find themselves inside what appears to be a kind of strange, time-slip vortex with some rather odd sellers. This perhaps should not be a surprise given the state of the London property market but Joanna Faith Habershon’s play takes us on a bizarre and uncanny journey that ultimately leaves us deciding that new-build might be the best bet rather than a rambling old mansion with a chilling atmosphere and memories clinging to the walls like cobwebs – and of course there’s always the disappearing rose garden.
Soft, The Moon Rose, despite its slightly daft title, is a well-written four handler which has a poetic structure that draws the audience in and keeps us guessing till the end. It’s strange, it’s quirky, it’s original and frankly it will never get sponsored by Foxtons. The estate agent that Jenny and Jonah are meant to meet at the property fails to show (been there, done that) probably because he’s also been there, done that with this place and can’t hack the weird owners who don’t want to stay in the house but can’t leave.
Jennifer is played by Habershon herself and is a fairly prim and proper, down-to earth, business-like career girl who is going to blow her inheritance on the house so that she and Jonah can settle down, get married and start a… business. Jonah (Geofferson Rainsford) is a bit of a lad, a wishy-washy umbrella-loser who is a TV producer – so what do you expect? Rainsford plays it with an exemplary what-me- Guv? disposition, drawing the humour out of the script and is a great foil to the strait-man Habershon characterisation of Jennifer.
This relationship is destined not to survive particularly when Jennifer becomes entranced by the coolly mesmeric Rupert, the owner of the house, who has clearly got some very deep, dark and nasty secrets stashed away in his inner psyche along with a fetish for roses. Hope you’re keeping up. Really weird though is Rose (who else?) a packer and unpacker of boxes, who ditches her medication so she can think clearly and is desperately searching for meaning which turns out to be the name of a cat (though I may have got that wrong). Ishai Albert Jacob is excellent as Rupert, probing Jennifer, mildly goading her and sapping her confidence with his low register voice though he has to be careful of his whispering delivery which, whilst perfect for the atmosphere of the play, sometimes becomes too soft, the rose fetishist.
Emma Nanson as Rose is just plain disturbing. She haunts the place like a phantasm waking up from a bad trip and her meaningful glances and knowing interjections make you think that the champagne she offers must surely be laced with arsenic and old rose thorns. Excellent work from Nansom: a kind of Mrs-Danvers/Miss-Havisham cross breed.
It usually take s a lot of convincing for a writer to be seen as successful in their own play. Habershon pulls it off, though, and Manuel Bau’s assured and light-touch (for such an ultimately heavy subject) direction gives her very definite parameters, I imagine, fending off the “this-is- my-script- and-I’ll-do-it-my-way” calls from the writer.
But sometimes, just sometimes, you get the impression that Habershon knows more than we do and she’s not going to let on. That, of course, is part of the play’s charm – that and the blessed roses of course: title, character name, floral display, garden and, uh, rose wine. She’s definitely trying to tell us something: I’m off to find an Elvis Costello song on i-Tunes.
Review by Peter Yates
When Jonah and Jennifer show up to view a house, they are confronted with two lost souls and a house full of buried memories. As they dig deeper they come to realise their part in the story as the web of truth is spun. The moon rises as the day closes, and choices must be made by both parties, to remain or let go.
8 August 2016 – 12 August 2016 at 4:30pm
Book tickets online for the Etecetera Theatre