For years, the Galleon Theatre Company has introduced audiences to a lost canon, a cache of neglected European playwriting. Their new staging of Portuguese playwright Sttau Monteiros Felizmente h Luar! continues the tradition, here in a new translation by Alice de Sousa.
The play portrays a ruling class whose profligacy has driven the peasantry to the brink of revolution. Anticipating the threat, the administration selects a scapegoat in Gomes Freire de Andrade, an innocent (though conveniently revisionist) general upon whom the poor affix their hopes. Gomes is executed after a secretive show-trial, the pleas of his wife ignored and his supporters acquiescent with hunger.
Despite succeeding events by 144 years, the play was controversial enough to receive a government injunction; even after the fall of Portugals fascist regime in 1974 – some thirteen years later – Thankfully There Is Moonlight! waited four more before its eventual domestic premiere.
This is perhaps unsurprising; its historical setting was overtly metaphorical, and the play was easily read as a critique of the injustice occurring offstage. Indeed, Sttau Monteiro was later arrested by the PIDE for work of a similar fashion.
Set in 1817, there are fleeting references to Enlightenment discourse and to the lighter side of the Marquis de Sade; thematically speaking, the text is more typical of post-war Portugal. It capitalises on a number of interesting devices. Gomes is an abstract figure, a stand in for the hopes of the proletariat and forever absent from the stage. What follows is essentially a reconfiguration of Christs betrayal; in death he becomes a burning beacon, a symbol for the failure of society to profit from its mistakes. For all the consolatory optimism, however, it is unclear whether this will shake the people from their malaise, moonlight or no.
Seating only 84, the Greenwich Playhouse is perfect for productions of this kind. Bruce Jamieson delivers high emotional impact per square-inch, achieved through economical stage-dressing and a mastery of light and sound. It seems unfair to choose from such engrossing performances this is a strong cast but the role of Matilde, played by de Sousa herself, lingers long in the mind.
The misappropriation of history – for good or for bad – was described by Jean-Luc Goddard as the “totalitarianism of the present.” With its emphasis resolutely on a Marxist interpretation of history – cycles of repetition, the limitations of experience, the brutal ascent of the powerful – Thankfully There Is Moonlight! struggles to find a true analogue in the politics of today; we are estranged from its viewpoint.
This production therefore lacks the spirit with in which the play was conceived, and perhaps represents a missed opportunity. Nonetheless, it is an affecting and enjoyable work, and Galleons production comes highly recommended.