Review: Beyond the Moors (Shaista Latif / Sarah Behl)

By Adam Collier

Shaista Latif and Sarah Behl produced a show called Beyond The Moors, at the Annex Theatre.

What drew me to this show was Ms. Latif’s name. She has done some great work producing comedy at the Bad Dog Theatre. So – after reading the blurb for Beyond The Moors – I was especially curious to see how Ms. Latif’s instinct for comedy would infuse this four-part series of adaptations of British literature.

On the night I attended (last Saturday) the novel was Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.”

The adaptation is – true to expectation – a mixture of comedy and broad narrative components from Ms. Bronte’s work, that follows a girl (Jane Eyre) from an abusive family to her time as a governess to – well – something altogether more complex with love and death in the emotional mix.

Though the source material seems quite tragic and occasionally melodramatic, Beyond The Moors had the audience laughing for the entire show (that runs exactly two hours, with one five minute “tea break” intermission).

An unseen narrator guides the story along, and from time to time turns to the audience (addressing us as “reader”) to make suggestions on the details.

For example, when we meet Jane’s childhood friend Helen, we are told that she suffers from three illnesses. At this point the narrator asks, “Reader, what are they?” Bad breath and dandruff were amongst the suggestions shouted-out from the audience, and in turn, we see Helen portray them.

A memorable moment of improv comes when Jane is searching for a letter. Little notes from up-above start to rain down. Jane reads through a couple before the “correct” letter comes down. Her reaction to the notes – one is from a “Nigerian banker that requires help to get millions of dollars out of the country” – is priceless. There’s really something brilliant about a Charlotte Bronte character in prim Victorian dress, speaking with a British accent, reading – dead seriously – a spam email.

For the most part, the show manages to balance improv and hammy overacting (like the Adele character, Jane’s ward, that has a stage-y thick French accent, or a character named “John” that always seems intent on giving Jane a thrashing) with swift narrative, and a genuine attention to period details, like the costumes and set, though I’m not sure how accurate the “rolling pin room” is to a Victorian household.

There were a few points where I got lost. For example, there’s a sequence in which four characters play “slap deck,” but it wasn’t clear to me what the game had to do with forwarding the storyline. And keep in mind that the story has an enormous cast of characters maybe fifteen people appear to take bows at the end of the show.

All in all, it was a great night. Shaista Latif and Sarah Behl are names to keep an eye out for; they’re very strong producers.

[M1]Pretty sure the period goes inside the quotes