Hampstead Theatre presents LUNA GALE by Rebecca Gilman: Theatre Review

The name Luna Gale sounds more like a case of severe weather phenomena than the identity of an innocent and uprooted baby girl, but Rebecca Gilman makes it work in her play concerning seasonal parenthood. Luna is born to meth-addicted parents Karlie and Peter who can barely hold their heads up on their own, let alone raise a child. So it falls to knackered but compassionate social worker Caroline to place the child with a suitable guardian. Karlie’s mother Cindy, whilst initially appearing the perfect candidate for the job, turns out to be a “crazy Christian” with a questionable moral compass.

The cast is led by Sharon Small who gives a consistently fascinating turn as Caroline, rising to her character’s dual persona of shrewd case officer and vengeful survivor brilliantly. Rachel Redford and Alexander Arnold support one another and give impressive performances as the young delinquent couple. Caroline Faber’s Cindy is also smartly executed, capturing her delusional devotion and later her more benevolent side. The play’s best moment comes when Arnold and Faber come together for an emotionally-charged final scene.

Whilst Luna Gale tells a simple story at face value, Gilman ventures much deeper into the play's difficult issues of neglect and abuse, throwing us some revealing provocations to consider. The play becomes a vehicle for exploring the depths to which we humans go to safeguard our secrets and how fiercely we fight when this is challenged. Each main character in the play battles some form of internalised darkness, be it repression, addiction or guilt. Even Caroline, seemingly in control and contractually obliged to do the right thing, employs some dodgy tactics and harbours some sour personal prejudices.

This points to another issue; the pressures bearing down on social workers that go unspoken and unacknowledged. Caroline deals with losing both a colleague and a client during the course of the play. In addition to this, she is embroiled in the bitter feud between Karlie and Cindy whilst also dealing with her own demons and the consequences of budget cuts. She is delivered a resounding and tragic reminder that she can’t save everyone.

Luna Gale is a thought-provoking, issue-driven play deftly performed and stylishly directed. It is however a little unsubtle in how it tackles evangelical Christianity and also structurally; Act One’s cliffhanger and the play’s scene breaks feel blunt and unnatural, disrupting an otherwise smooth flow. I also feel the play doesn’t completely suit its frame of a large proscenium arch. It feels overexposed, with the central set covering only two-thirds of the full stage. There is a wall of cardboard boxes, swollen files and paperwork stretching the length and breadth of the space helping to fill the void but the nature of the play calls for something more intimate. Lucy Osborne’s wall of boxes and files does earn its place though, reflecting what it must look like inside our minds: a selection of archived records better best forgotten, with some boxes left open to return to another day.

© Hannah Roe, 2015


LUNA GALE by Rebecca Gilman

Playing at the Hampstead Theatre

Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London, NW3 3EU

Closes 18th July


Monday - Saturday evenings at 7.30pm

Saturday matinee at 3pm, Wednesday matinee at 2.30pm




Director – Michael Attenborough

Assistant Director – Milli Bhatia

Designer – Lucy Osborne

Lighting Designer – Jon Clark

Assistant Lighting Designer – Jack Weir

Sound Designer – John Leonard

Cast – Sharon Small, Rachel Redford, Alexander Arnold, Caroline Faber, Abigail Rose, Ed Hughes, Corey Johnson


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