For more than a decade now, Ben Moor has been bringing eccentric solo "stand-up acting" shows to mid-afternoon performance slots in smallish-capacity spaces within the Pleasance venue empire on the Edinburgh Fringe. In his post-student phase, these consisted of sci-fi-ish intellectual fireworks, as if Douglas Adams had fully understood the paradoxes he had written about, mixed with all-purpose surrealism. (A protagonist who worked in a patisserie, for instance, would be given a leaving present of "a Swiss Army roll, with five smaller useful cakes coming out of the side".) Then Moor introduced heart: a warm, unashamed wash of sentiment, of boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl stories set in slightly strange universes-next-door. After two or three years, he got the mix absolutely right, and has not looked back since.
Coelacanth takes place in a world in which tree-climbing is a competitive spectator sport, marked for technical merit and artistic impression. In an event at Runnymede in which he and his father provide the warm-up "fireman and cat" act, Moor's unnamed narrator meets his similarly anonymous beloved, a migrant from the town of Allegory, Ohio. Their eyes meet... literally, at a later point in the story. The arboreal activity, and the dinosaur fish of the title which ought to be long extinct but has simply kept on going, provide symbols for the hour-long story's principal musings on life and love; incidental details, such as the facial fashion fad of the tri-brow or transvestite football clubs like West Bromwich Marilyn and Preston North Enid, supply background colour.
There is, to be honest, little to distinguish Coelacanth from a number of Moor's other recent shows. It is simply the realisation that this once gangling young man is now, under Erica Whyman's direction, a gently assured performer whose natural generosity shines forth along with his intelligence – that such odd yet perfectly crafted miniature jewels are the essence of Fringe magic. Greater public success might well perish the unique wonder of Moor's work, but greater recognition is certainly his due.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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