The West End often receives criticism for not embracing new material. Indeed it is a hard mistress to crack for new writers, directors and actors. However, hidden away just off Piccadilly Circus is the small studio that makes up the Jermyn Street Theatre. It is a delightful little space tucked into the basement of the West End that aims to provide a showcase for new writers.
‘The Moon is Halfway to Heaven’ is only the second play from writer David Kerby-Kendall. It tells the story of the intense friendship that can form between two men during their lifetime. It is structured as a collection of sketches that occur in the same special place but set at different times during their lives. This way we get to see the two characters develop their relationship from childhood, through to adulthood and ultimately death. This concept has a lot of potential but ultimately does not explore these ideas as far as it could.
The play begins with a short prologue introducing the characters before we are launched back in time to meet their seven-year-old selves. The energy the two actors bring to this dialogue is fun and light-hearted but the script is somewhat lacking in providing a believable dialogue between two children. Indeed they must be the wittiest and most intelligent children I’ve ever met!
Unfortunately what spoilt my enjoyment were some very questionable references that didn’t seem to fit with the time period. My calculations work out that at 7 years old, the year portrayed should be around 1927. However, there was a reference to being “like a spaceman” and common use of the phrase “shut up” which I’m pretty sure was not currently in use at the time. Similarly the discussion aged 21 (1941) where one character made a joke of having sex in a telephone booth seemed a throwaway comment being as there were only 35,000 in the whole of the UK at the time… I’m no historian, but these inaccuracies did jar with me during the evening, and while there has clearly been a lot of love put into the script, these little slipups can come across as being lazy. Any sense of time becomes lost with the use of twentieth century references.
There is a danger of repetition throughout the play as it is set in the same spot. This could perhaps have been addressed by being more creative with the set design, although special mention must go to the use of a projector to transport us through time (but again these images contained many factual inaccuracies that did not tie in with the actual period we were meant to be viewing). There is also pressure in doing two-hander performance as there are only two actors performing for the entire night. Therefore they had to portray a variety of ages ranging from 7-89, which at times they seemed to struggle with and the characters did not develop as far as they could have.
It is a brave performance, and in spite of criticism makes for a pleasant night out. However, it fails to capture the innocence of childhood as well as others have (e.g. Blood Brothers, Matilda etc) and while it is at times light-hearted and witty, the comedy sometimes falls flat. I wonder whether it would be more suited to a stand up monologue performance rather than a play. The writer clearly has a sense of timing, fun, and a brilliant way of commenting on his own human observations, but this can sometimes be overshadowed by the storytelling.