Black Mountain at the Orange Tree Theatre
A very dark and hazy ambience welcomes the audience at the Orange Tree Theatre. Black Mountain is not for the faint-hearted. Tension and passive aggressiveness constitute the prime ingredients of this remarkable psychological thriller by Brad Birch.
Rebecca (Katie Elin-Salt) and Paul (Hasan Dixon) retreat into an isolated mountain resort, seeking space and time to talk and attempt to fix their relationship. The man’s affair with Helen (Sally Messham) broke the couple’s trust, deeply affecting the woman who is now unable to forgive. In the silence of the wood, outside, someone else is lingering and observing, in search of truth.
The play is heavily structured in scenes and pauses paced by flashes and swift beams of light, mostly white, with a few reds. The sound installations are also integral to the setting: from the faint flickering of the bulb, to the tweeting of the birds, to random creeping noise from the forest. The sudden stroboscopic rays, flashing from the beginning, seem extreme. But, together with the sound and the halting conversations, they maintain an effectively strained atmosphere. In this way, the dramatic developments of the story allow the narrative to flow, without excessive shocks or a clichéd climax that we might see in a similar mysterious thriller in the wood.
It is impressive how absorbing the play becomes thanks to the strength of the dialogues, predominantly between Rebecca and Paul. Almost no physical touch is exchanged, or real action happens – just a couple of mountain climbs and a dead animal landing in the room. The focus is all on the verbal torture and the uneasiness passing through the characters.
Sally Messham is icy as she appears, ghostlike, and stares at the circular theatre space. The same stiffness is shared by Elin-Salt. Dixon looks to be the only one moving, back and forth, taking up as much space as possible, whether by stretching his arms or laying down. The uncomfortable triangle created by Paul, within which he is feeling continuously on the edge, with the situation out of his control, is brilliantly staged.
Guilt and deceit are the central arguments of the characters’ discussions. But, by the end of the show, the borders blur and the questions about who is lying to whom, and who is really to blame, are perfectly mixed up and simply remain unresolved.
Photo: Jonathan Keenan
Black Mountain is at the Orange Tree Theatre from 26th January until 3rd March 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.