Sam Shepard, who died in 2017, left a fascinating and challenging set of American plays written between 1963 and 2012, which collected many awards including Buried Child and Fool For Love. Ages Of The Moon from late in his career makes its UK debut at the inelegant Vaults at Waterloo. The theatre’s decrepit feel is as much a metaphor for the two characters lives as the eclipse of the moon that they are waiting to see. It is a gritty two hander set in an isolated southern state of America in which the two men reminisce on their long on and off friendship, the impact of ageing and fuelled by a local Bourbon come close to blows. They are adrift, lonely, almost waiting for death in a living purgatory.

The play’s success depends on the skill of the two actors to convey this sense of desolate existence and half remembered friendship . Christopher Fairbanks (who I remember so well from Auf Wiedersehen pet) is Ames, who desperately summons his old mate in the middle of the night to his wooden shack and Joseph Marcell is Byron who answers that call and travels three days to be with him. Together they are excellent. With synchronised bourbon drinking and dubious recall of events, they soon establish their strained and distant friendship. They pause between recollections, react violently to moments of disagreement (“Get off my porch”) and we can see and hear their struggles with the impact of ageing. As one of them says “How much time we got left?”.

At the heart of their recollections is sex, fidelity and their relationship with their unseen wives. Ames asks if “there is anything sexier than a woman on a bike” and they argue over an incident on his honeymoon in 1982 in Mexico. When Byron reveals a dark secret and physically reacts to Ames’s aggression, it is moving and shocking to create a poignant ending.

The set design by Holly Pigott perfectly reflects their fragmented isolated memories with its dilapidated slatted wooden shack and porch and unreliable ceiling fan and we can sense the heat and remoteness. The lighting by Jai Morjaria gradually reflects the eclipse of the moon, casting a red glow over the stage, to create an atmospheric setting for the tense exchanges.

This is a short fairly static play, one hour in length, but the two fine performances, effective setting and strong simple direction make it a compelling and interesting reflection on memories in old age and an enjoyable accessible piece of theatre .

Reviewed by Nick Wayne
Photo: Mark Senior

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