Karoo Moose – No Fathers | Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17) | Star rating: ****
I’m no David Attenborough, but I know you don’t get moose in South Africa. It’s a bit of a surprise to the Eastern Cape villagers in Lara Foot’s play too. “Moose live in America with Father Christmas,” one helpfully explains.
Turns out the creature – imagined with characteristic simplicity in the Baxter Theatre production by the deployment of two enormous fronds of a plant – is an escapee from a zoo. It’s also the gift of the Swedish ambassador, which makes its subsequent capture a government matter.
More to the point, it stands as a kind of fairy-story symbol for malevolent forces at large. For the young Thozama (a radiant Chuma Sopotela), in particular, it represents the dark male danger lying in wait just out of sight. Having been gang raped to pay off a debt amassed by her feckless father, she asserts her power by conquering the escaped animal. “If you dare touch my family, I will kill you with the spirit of the moose,” she says.
It’s brutal stuff, uncompromising in its view of men who can treat a teenage girl as if she were nothing more than a goal on a football pitch. This is a vision of a social order in which men have retained their power but forfeited their moral authority. The women are left with little choice but to soldier on.
For all that it paints a distressing picture, it’s also performed with a tremendous sense of life and a keen feel for music by the six-strong cast. Even if Foot’s narrative lacks the archetypal clarity of a classic fairy story and takes time to find its focus at the start, her own production has a fluidity and grace that belies its dark subject matter.
• Until 27 August. Today 11:40am.