Browse reviews

Brighton Year-Round 2023


New Venture Theatre, Brighton

Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Theatre

Venue: New Venture Theatre Upstairs


Low Down

David Greig’s 2007 play Pyrenees, playing at the new Venture Theatre directed by Sandie Armstrong, echoes other plays: a man rescued from the snow has no memory of who he is. But is far weirder. A first-rate revival worthy to be seen anywhere.

Directed by Sandie Armstrong, Assistant to Director Neil Hadley, Production Manager Katie Brownings, Set Design and Painting John Everett, and Set Construction John Everett, George Walter,  Richard Lock, Laura Nuppola, Jean Parker, Mark Snipe. Scenic Artist Fiona Hewitt.

Lighting Design Apollo Videaux, Will Scott, Sound Design Ian Black, Costume Design Elaine Clydesdale

Stage Managers Trisha Bayliss ASM Bryony Weaver, Light and Sound Operation Apollo Videaux, Props Trisha Bayliss

Poster Gardner Muirhead, Programme Ian Amos, Photographer Strat Mastoris, Publicity and Marketing Emmie Spencer, Katie Brownings. Health and Safety Ian Black.

Till April 29th


Like Rhona Munro, David Harrower and Sam Smith, David Greig’s one of the finest Scottish – indeed British – dramatists of our time, yet curiously unknown south of the border. His 2007 play Pyrenees, playing at the new Venture Theatre directed by Sandie Armstrong, echoes other plays: a man rescued from the snow has no memory of who he is.

Moira Buffini’s 1997 debut thriller Gabriel (memorably staged here in October 2019) comes to mind, as does Anouilh’s 1937 classic Voyager Sans Baggage, reworked in 2016 by Anthony Weigh as Welcome Home Captain Fox at the Donmar. One was a thriller set in Jersey, 1943. The other a comedy of identity and new beginnings. Greig’s weirder than either, more nuanced, more brilliantly unstable as you start to question the identity of all four protagonists.

The Man (Greg Donaldson) is telling British Consular official Anna (Tia Dunn) details of which she’s already had a summary: how he was found in the snow, clutching a scollop shell, which to the interfering shapeshifting Proprietor (Simon Hudson) suggests a pilgrim. They’re on the Compostela trail. Anna’s remarkably warm and inviting, getting the man to intone into a tape recorder (even in 2007, these were gone).

Dunn slinkily suggests a young woman not only open to possibilities, but playfully, almost alarmingly so. Anna explains she was an actress, but simply didn’t fit in. Gradually though you wonder what act Anna’s pulling: as her interest in the Man intensifies, her behaviour becomes more erratic, more mysterious, ultimately far more vulnerable.

There’s a lot of acting from Hudson’s Proprietor (not from Hudson who’s excellent) who seems to shape-shift, always called Pedro, into different roles and accents. He once runs through a gallimaufry of different ones just to show he can to Anna. He recalls the man in Britten’s 1973 opera Death in Venice, from the Mann novella: slightly sinister, always attending on Aschenbach in different guises. Encouraging and discouraging, the Proprietor’s always bursting on Anna and the Man when things are about to get interesting (once they slither off each other: why bother at this point?); and delivering strange homilies as well as pretending to take offence when Anna offers a tip, then the reverse.

Donaldson’s quietly riveting, carrying the man with total authority. The way he almost remembers a word for stream beginning with B – and you know what it is, it’s a Scottish play – is both charming and withdrawn. Clearly everything about him desires a fresh start. To forestall the darkest possibilities Greig has his pilgrim suggest to Anna that like most men he could have done something horrendous. So you know he hasn’t. This, if not a comedy, isn’t a dark play: but it unsettles.

At the end of the first act Vivienne (Samantha Ferree) appears, making her own assertions, discomfiting the Man and Anna, though the Proprietor knows all about her. She shows photographs after the interval. Neither are convinced. It seems we’re engaged on two instable identities fighting for the soul of the third, and the Proprietor somehow – as the Man points out – thwarting things. Indeed the Proprietor starts a long game with binoculars.

He promises a frightened maid that he’ll stand lookout to see if her lover will fall to his death. Even that conclusion is uncertain. And the Proprietor’s suggestion of who Anna is – it’s fleetingly done – starts invoking the magical.

This is typical of Greig, and why we need him. After his breakthrough in the extraordinary Outlying  Islands of 2002, Greig’s written a series of exciting plays, culminating in his re-creation of an Aeschylus trilogy: Suppliants (Young Vic 2017) is the authentic play we have, translated by Greig: but Greig’s imagined the second from a synopsis (2023) and next year a third, surrounding one long speech by Venus, the only extant part of Aeschylus’ original.

John Everett’s single panoramic set with porticos, sage green slide doors centrally, and entrances under Ionic columns, is backdropped by a cirrus-and-blue panorama wrap, painted by Fiona Hewitt. Two sets of terrace tables and chairs and this fine single-set makes good use of the Upstairs where distance and a prosc-arch feel lends enchantment. As do Elaine Clydesdale’s elegant costumes: everyone but Vivienne – till the end – seem to revel in flannel and Anna’s red outfit.  Apollo Videaux’ lighting springs dark surprises and  is full of sly fun. Ian Black’s sound plays with memory – in the shape of pop classics designed to loosen it.

All four actors are excellent. And there’s parallels. It’s curious that Dunn gave up acting early and returned to it, just as Anna gave it up entirely. Ferree’s character is a language coach, and Ferree after acting became a voice coach at the Italia Conti. Her penetrating but soft Scottish accent here is a delight in terraced notes, veiled understatements and knowing exactly where she is on stage.  Alongside the consummate Donaldson, mercurial Hudson, and unnervingly present Dunn, who lights up the stage with alarm every time she crosses it, you have a first-rate revival worthy to be seen anywhere.