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> > > Review: Nudd and Galloway's 'In the House of the Moles'

27 August 2012

photo of two actors dressed as the characters of Punch and Judy

'In the House of the Moles' explores the darker themes of disability through a comic mix of vaudeville, Punch and Judy, melodrama and English music hall.

In the House of Moles - billed a tragedy in burlesque - was the result of the work of Galloway and Nudd’s two week residency at DaDaFest. Cate Jacobs saw the staged reading of the play at the Bluecoat, Liverpool on 24 August

The play layers three worlds - the world of family, the play the mother has written for her family to act and a children’s morality play. It combines a variety of theatrical techniques to achieve this in a comic mix of melodrama, Punch and Judy, vaudeville and English music hall.

Throughout the play there is subtle and clever use of well-known music, played by Benjamin Gunter, which adds to the overall sense of irony, humour and pathos. The reassuring voice of Donna Marie Nudd narrating the stage directions, helped to carry the audience along through fast changing scenes.

They used few props or costumes, but the range of well-chosen hats and expressive vocal acting, proves that less is indeed more. Liz Carr’s transformation into nasty Polly was a particular favourite. Her jauntily angled black hat with elastic chin strap, a sneer and a knowing wink, was enough to convince you that she was also wearing a wasp-waisted corset, feather boa and swishing skirts, as she turns from tempting seductress into the stereotypical fairy tale stepmother, with the flick of an imaginary fan!

Julie McNamara and Alan Kagan’s performance highlight issues of domestic violence as they play out the traditional Punch and Judy roles. The arrival of Ugly Baby, fuels the violence to such a pitch that Punch murders Judy and throws the baby in a bucket. It was an act that made my stomach churn and yet the audience laugh. Such is the macabre nature of Punch and Judy humour. The baby in a bucket, albeit a puppet, was resonant of abortion.

The baby crying is an unexpected and unwelcome sign of her continued life as she grows into the character of Ugly Girl, played by Kiruna Stamell, who brings such an innocent and likeable quality to her character that you can’t help feeling sympathy for her, particularly when she falls in love with Pretty Girl, played by Carrie Sandahl. Carrie brings everything that is saccharine and pink to the part, pushing the stereotype to the very edge, where she doesn’t even have a name, defined simply by a list of sickly adjectives for ‘pretty’.

The issues of disability, and the politics of perfection, were subsumed within the play, but nevertheless, it subtly pushes us to confront societal issues and stereotypes around perfection and the inherent body fascism that accompanies it.

Ruth Gould convincingly portrayed the dynamic of a dominantly matriarchal family, in which everyone plays by ‘mother’s rules,’ Her character Peg had a manipulative and slightly sinister influence, even though she was dead for most of the play! And Ruth played dead with definite aplomb!

Like all good fairy tales and pantomimes, you expect a happily ever after, but even that is ambivalent as the cast joins together in the final song which seems to question our attachment to tragedy. Yet another societal obsession!

It was altogether a thoroughly accomplished reading/ performance that worked well because of the high level of collaboration between Galloway and Nudd, the actors, technical support staff, sign interpreter, audio describer and the audience.

The best ending I can think of for this play is to see it staged in it’s completed form, at the Unity, in next years DaDaFest!
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Go to www.dadafest.co.uk for details of the festival, which runs until 2 September

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