FringeReview UK 2018
This is one of the three shorts by different writers mounted by Orange Tree – again in association with Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd, involving the same three actors – Katie Elin-Salt, Sally Messham and Hasan Dixon in a virtuoso display of registers and styles. Niftily directed by Dominic Grieve, with Peter Small’s lighting creating a set through miraculous kaleidoscopes, black-outs, red-ins and filters, it’s all you need. On occasion – when bleak jangles or riotous pop music are invoked – the sound’s completed by Dominic Kennedy. They can be seen in a single day. Till March 3rd.
Brad Birch has won awards recently, 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 psychological thriller, but more successfully it’s a dissection of sexual betrayal.
It’s one of the three shorts by different writers mounted by Orange Tree – again in association with Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd, involving the same three actors – Katie Elin-Salt, Sally Messham and Hasan Dixon in a virtuoso display of registers and styles. Niftily directed by Dominic Grieve, with Peter Small’s lighting creating a set through miraculous kaleidoscopes, black-outs, red-ins and filters, it’s all you need. 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 Dominic Kennedy. They can be seen in a single day.
Elin-Salt’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. Dixon’s bewildered mix of half-honourable attempt are thwarted by Messham’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 (Messham 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 is 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. Dixon 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 et grater 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 Messham’s part seems slightly underwritten simply because she ash 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 doesn’t quite come off. 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.