The Woman in the Moon

The Woman in the Moon is an Elizabethan stage play by John Lyly, a comedy which is unique in that it is the only play that Lyly wrote in blank verse rather than prose. It is the story of Pandora, a human woman created by Nature with the most attractive qualities of each of the seven planets. The planets are unhappy with this and seek to reverse these qualities, leading to all kinds of trouble with Pandora and the four shepherds who are seeking her love. In many respects it is a play of its time – but theatre group The Dolphin’s Back’s subtitling of the play as “an astrological sex comedy” and their imaginative, fresh interpretation ensure that the production is an appealing and hugely enjoyable one.

The production design is one of the best I have ever seen, in fringe theatre or elsewhere. The dark open space behind the tiny Rose stage is hung with lights representing the stars of the cosmos; different coloured spheres are hung within the space to represent planets, and when a particular planet is on stage, “their” planet is lit up in the background. The production itself has a Sixties look to it, which evokes the fascination with space exploration and the Moon Landings of the era. Pandora herself sleeps on a round white bed next to a round white dressing table, evoking the Moon itself, while the planets are kitted out in clothes that reminded me – intentionally or unintentionally – of the characters on the cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album.

The actors are all superb: the “planets” display their personalities to a tee, and the four shepherds add bewildered humour to proceedings. Julia Sandiford is suitably authoritative as Nature, while Bella Heesom’s standout performance as Pandora ensures that her character is more than a caricature or a stereotype. Whether you are familiar with Lyly’s work or not, this is a very funny, superb production.

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