Feb 17 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆   Brave

Traverse: Thu 16 – Sat 18 Feb 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Moonset, Maryam Hamidi’s coming-of-age story from the Citizens Theatre at the Traverse, is full of fire and anger. Its wilful refusal to settle down proves both a strength and a weakness.

Four National 5 pupils, inspired by a trip to a monument for executed witches, start to dabble in witchcraft themselves. Bushra (Cindy Awor) is a Muslim questioning her sexuality and everything else about herself, Gina (Leah Byrne) is a self-appointed troublemaker dealing with past abuse, while Joanne (Hannah Visocchi) is locked in a coercive relationship.

A scene from Moonset. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

And at the play’s centre is Roxy (Layla Kirk), whose worry about the late beginning of her periods is superseded by dealing with the ovarian cancer diagnosis of her mother Shideh (Zahra Browne).

Such a combination (not to mention the other trigger warnings detailed on the Traverse website) certainly sounds like it should make for a very difficult watch, but it never quite turns out that way.

This is partly because there is an undoubted energy to Hamidi’s script, which often manages to sound like the voices of young women without the ‘trying too hard’ mode that dramas usually employ in such circumstances.

However, the reason that the drama never really evokes the strongest emotion is more because of its structure. The piling-up of issues can seem formulaic and soap-opera-like, which is actually a plus point, as it produces an immediacy and identification that is the greatest draw of a soap.


However, it does lead on this occasion to a somewhat fractured narrative. Situations are conjured up, laid aside and sometimes resolved in a manner that is too brusque and too pat.

Interesting themes are brought up and left hanging; empowerment (and its opposite), or who gets to tell their story. The latter is particularly apposite in a play featuring characters who are young, working-class females from diverse backgrounds – voices still unrepresented in drama.

A scene from Moonset. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

There is also a constant shift in tone that is undoubtedly intentional but never quite works. In particular, the sequences closest to all-out horror (so difficult to pull off convincingly on stage) do not convince.

Much of the play consists of monologue, to the extent that the sequences of dialogue also come across as cut-up monologues. Once again, this is surely the intention, but it still has a distancing effect.

Further distance is lent by Jen McGinley’s overly fussy, oddly sterile junk-heap of a set, while the lighting and sound are as often intrusive as they are evocative.


Although the various stories never quite gel, they all have force, and the cast all do justice to the power of Hamidi’s words. Byrne is especially strong as the incendiary Gina, while Browne and Kirk’s depiction of the mother-daughter bond is particularly touching.

That such emotional moments co-exist with the rage felt by characters who feel powerless, is testament to the good things about this production. It also shows that Joanna Bowman’s direction is both sensitive and provocative, something which is aided by Vicki Manderson’s movement direction.

For there is certainly much to recommend about this production, uneven though it ultimately may be.

Running time: Two hours and 5 minutes (including one interval).
Traverse, 10 Cambridge St, EH1 2ED
Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 February 2023
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and information: Book here.

A scene from Moonset. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic


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