Ruby Moon put on her favourite red dress and went to visit her grandma at the end of her cul de sac. She never made it and hasn’t been seen since. Her parents are still in the same house and spend every day lost in the unbearable grief of trying to find their little girl.
Sydney-formed Steam Productions chose Matt Cameron’s 2003 play for their first Melbourne show.
Cameron’s script starts with a fairy tale and enjoys the macabre horror of these traditional stories. It’s been on state company stages and schools programs and, like Poor Boy, which opened the MTC’s Sumner Theatre, it’s a story that keeps its audience uneasy by never really answering its own questions and its final act reveal leaves us re-interpreting everything that’s gone before and wanting a rewind button to see it all again.
The Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond have a tiny theatre space in what was once the front room of a single front cottage. It’s an ideal choice of venue for this story as it brings its audience almost into the living room with them, allowing for no hiding beyond or behind the fourth wall.
Director Rachel Baring (Short and Sweet) is back in Melbourne after completing a graduate year studying Directing at NIDA. She places the story firmly into the broken minds and hearts of the parents and only hints at the super natural and fairy tale elements. This lets it feel more like a mystery that could find an answer in the packages of broken dolls and strangely unhelpful neighbours, and creates the freedom to indulge in the dark comedy. But it also leaves a slightly uneven tone, especially as she ultimately ensures that it’s a work about grief.
Sarah Ogden (Moth) and Scott Gooding (Eric, Faust) are the parents and everyone on their street who were there the day Ruby disappeared. Their honest and heartfelt performances start with guilt and they let their characters fight the hurt that they know has probably already drowned them. Both bring the internal to the surface, but maybe in such a small venue, leaving more of it hidden will create an even greater intimacy with the audience. In such a close and closed room, hints of “acting” create safety barriers, and one of this show’s many strengths is its uncomfortable atmosphere .
I also wonder if there’s meant to be hope for the parents. As their grief is so unfair that there may never be a moment of comfort or rest again, more of a hint of the life that created Ruby could give the audience a touch of hope and comfort that can draw them deeper into the story and intensify the ongoing dread.
As is Annie, Ruby Moon is about a little girl in a red dress, but it’s the dark and sobering antithesis to the life-is-fair musical. (Or maybe it’s the real story of Annie’s lost parents.) Without safety nets, its raw pain draws us into unimaginable grief as its mystery leaves us re-thinking what we believed and our hearts hope for the impossible.
Just book, because there’s no room for extra seats. It’s engagement isn’t easy, but there’s beauty in the pain and it’ll remind you why watching passive theatre can be so dull.