Brighton Year-Round 2023
In Black Mountain Brad Birch shows in part how fine he can be. It’s in the speech by the partner of man who’s cheated on her. That’s the rich ore mined on this particular mountain. That, and an ear for dialogue that shows Birch will do even finer things.
Arlene Hutton’s I Dream Before I Take the Stand is a short assault on the way the law assaults its victims, particularly women. It’s a pitch-perfect display too. Neither actor would look out of place in the West End.
Directed by Nick Farr (Black Mountain), Susanne Crosby (I Dream Before I Take the Stand)
Stage Manager Esme Bird, DSM Dawn Draper
Set Design and Construction and Painting Steven Adams, Set Construction and Painting Tom Williams.
Lighting Design Steven Adams, Sound Design Gary Cook Lighting/Sound Operation Torrin Gieler and Bradley Coffey
Costumes Myles Locke, Photography Miles Davies
Till September 23rd
Two taut one-act plays from bLT with two new directors, the first just over an hour, the second half that.
Brad Birch Black Mountain
Brad Birch has won awards, and in Black Mountain he shows in part how fine he can be. It’s in the speech by the partner of man who’s cheated on her. They’re here to try and rescue their relationship. But the past literally trails them.
“I think I want you to hurt. I’m sorry but that’s what I want. I want you to really hurt.” Black Mountain’s a psychological thriller, but more successfully it’s a dissection of sexual betrayal.
Originally one of the three shorts by different writers mounted by Orange Tree in association with Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd in 2017-18, it involved the same three actors. Here, the two BLT productions are separate: Kasha Goodenough, Sarah Conway and Elliot Dryer-Beers scintillate in registers and styles.
Niftily debut-directed by actor Nick Farr, with Steven Adams’ sparse set never impeding the action. Not seen black curtains at the BLT before. This play eschews the back projections the next play uses. Adams’ lighting creates a set through black-outs, red-ins and filters; it’s all you need, leaving the stage floor an icy blue-black. Here the lighting’s spooked, the noises off and dry ice evoke dank midnights and afternoons on the black mountain of the title. On occasion – when bleak jangles or riotous pop music are invoked – the sound’s completed by Gary Cook, mainly featuring a spooky string quartet.
Goodenough’s lean condemnatory Rebecca seems almost like a work colleague who’s helped rob a bank, the kind of atmosphere suggests. It’s swiftly clear they’re partially estranged lovers taking this remote house near a mountain to stake out something else. Rebecca’s statement is physically realised so often it’s a kind of comic litany: the splinter in Paul’s hand she exacerbates, the midges on the mountain biting only him, though that might just be his kind of skin.
It’s certainly his skin that blisters as he braves the long walks foisted on him that never seem to worry Rebecca. Dryer-Beers’s bewildered mix of half-honourable attempts are thwarted by Conway’s appearance: his ex, Helen who urges him to a different kind of honesty, to leave Rebecca.
She tells Paul he’s not happy. “I can see it. I can always tell with you.” It’s the language of a wife, perhaps, the claim of the natural partner. Paul’s already complicit, desperate for Rebecca not to guess that Helen’s arrived. So when Rebecca shortly after thanks him for his complete honesty, adding “You’d tell me. If there was anything else” you wonder if that should be reversed. Birch’s language is lean, mostly fleet, and only occasionally elaborates to evoke a picture including the appearance of neighbour Heather (Conway again) introduced by Rebecca. Only Paul’s confused.
So enigmatic, passionate, recriminating and teasing Helen’s not responsible for the shower being turned on again potentially flooding the house. Or the dead bird already torn apart flopping through the window in front of Rebecca. Though Rebecca’s ambivalence over its appearance shows she’s for once easily spooked. Or the missing axe. Paul’s edgy bewilderment swivels between suspicion at Helen’s potential bunny-boiling to suspicion at Rebecca herself. She wants him to hurt, right? And there’s the possibility this is going on somewhere in the guilty Paul’s head. Dryer-Beers elongates his panic to a slow simmer with an inevitable boil of its own.
Rebecca has the finest lines, Helen, the most teasing. Rebecca’s key speech. “Suffering like, to re-create, to make fair, it’s quite heard to, it’s quite hard to find something that never stops, that gets you right down into the roots.” It’s the climax of Rebecca’s internalising, which Birch characteristically punctuates with half-repetitions as if shifting the sentence at greater vantage and repeating it for clarity. It often sounds near a stumble, capturing the way speech reinvents itself at the moment of utterance. It’s not only a key insight into a woman’s acute never-stopping pain of betrayal. It’s a style Birch uses with uncanny accuracy.
It’s still a pity Conway’s part seems slightly underwritten simply because she has to remain spectral, half-incidental. You’d like to know more about Helen and Paul, and of course this does assume you’re hooked.
The denouement is partly predictable and partly something else altogether which is psychologically moot – not fault of this BLT production, that adds a layer of suggestiveness at the end the original production didn’t have. There are Stephen King novels in the house, clues and the language of gothic. Take away Rebecca’s language of betrayal. That’s the rich ore mined on this particular mountain. That, and an ear for dialogue that shows Birch will do even finer things. Goodenough, Dryer-Beers and Conway are at least as good as their roles’ originators. It’s a first-rate production.
Arlene Hutton I Dream Before I Take the Stand
Steven Adams’ back-projection of a court, a chair, Gary Cook’s hubbub. Susanne Crosby’s first production for BLT is of tense interrogation of she (Zarrina Danaeva) by He (Abbi Crawford). She’s clearly s victim, and He’s taking the role of defending attorney, padding round the chair leaning over and menacing. When the gavel falls the ritual’s repeated. It’s clear, or seems to be, they’re doing a dry run before she takes the stand and He’s the Prosecuting Attorney toughening her up, ensuring she can’t be spooked by intrusive questions, often of a startlingly intimate, sexual, bodily nature.
Danaeva navigates with tense wariness and language dragged out of her, the role of someone undergoing a new abuse, that of the attorney on the side of the alleged rapist. The continual pounce and bounce, rally and return to previous details eliciting an exasperated “You’ve said that already” from Danaeva, who’s recognises she’s being worn down, assertions repeated to trip her up, or when she declines to repeat details, they’re repeated before her. And of course, designed to catch her out.
The premise is to suggest the young woman merely walking through the park on a hot day to work, nodding to a “hello’ from a man on bench who then comes up from behind to assault her, is being provocative. This in all sorts of details fed back to discredit her. She’s asked for it.
The question is whether He is a good angel toughening up his client, or something more equivocal, predatory, taking delight in doing what the Defending Attorney will also do. She, who’s borne assault, perhaps rape by one man, might now be abused perhaps by two more. Certainly by one.
Crawford’s polished He is a machine of lithe bounce, sibilant rapacity, probing, mocking, ambushing. She is watchful, desperate to keep her composure and with sleights and increasingly alarmed wariness, defends herself without seeming to give as good as she gets: which you long for of course. And the title. Is this a nightmare prediction before waking?
The play’s a short assault on the way the law assaults its victims, particularly women. It’s a pitch-perfect display too. Neither would look out of place in the West End, and you won’t see a finer performance.