25th September 2022

Theatre Review: The Moaning Gadfly of the North


First-time reviewer Tara Lamp says the ADC’s experimental late-show is the best thing she has ever reviewed

Transgenderism. Homosexuality. Tuberculosis. Thatcher. Macarena.

These were the opening words of the show, screamed by a lone fresher in a cow costume, who covered herself in golden syrup whilst performing deep lunges. This profound and touching opening scene paved the way for the ruthlessly coherent material that the playwright (King’s student Marcus Atherton) had in store for us.

From a dialogue about the sexual appeal of Angela Merkel to an improvised gymnastics routine (performed lying down), ‘The Moaning Gadfly’ truly had it all. There may not have been a ‘plot’ to speak of, or ‘characters’ or a ‘large audience’ or those other well-worn theatre conventions, but all of these tableaux, vignettes, mises-en-scène, crèmes brulées, were brilliantly connected by the fact that they were performed by the same actors in the same theatre.

The play broke the fourth wall on several occasions. The second camel (Rebecca Parker), for instance, ran out of the theatre in tears fifteen minutes in. When the cow (Becky Wallis) and Angela Merkel (Cecil Jones) improvised a violent fistfight, the German Chancellor was escorted out of the theatre by the talented duty manager, who was sadly under-used.

At several points the director (Emily Milton) could be heard backstage swearing loudly, in what must have been carefully planned asides. This self-conscious approach made it hard to say where the play ended and the production began. The brave directorial decisions may not have been to everyone’s taste and the running time of approximately three hours and twenty-seven minutes might have been seen by some as excessive but no-one could fault the stellar cast for their fine work.

The jihadist ear of corn (Bryony Gibbets) was sensuous, charming, personable, and unlike some of her co-stars, even remembered all of her lines. Also excellent were the eponymous Moaning Gadfly (Debora Taylor) and the first camel (Lara Tamp).

And at the end of the day, who are we to pass judgment on the hard work of dedicated actors, writers, and directors? I heard rumours on the grapevine that the cast and crew worked really hard on this show! Gibbets even missed a lecture to attend the dress rehearsal! We should be truly grateful that these actors have put in so much effort into their performances, no matter the result.