Theatre in Wales

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Brad Birch: “terrific psychological thriller...nail-biting...gripping writing”

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

Theatr Clwyd, Paines Plough & the Orange Tree- Black Mountain , Roundabout @ Summerhall , August 15, 2017
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by Theatr Clwyd, Paines Plough & the Orange Tree- Black Mountain William Wilkins, the artist and cultural entrepreneur, was dissatisfied in his early days with his drawing. Over six years he drew for three hours a night five days a week and for eight hours a day for three weekends out of four. Mastery requires application. Theatre writers do not have it easy. The audience will teach you everything, as Mamet put it blithely. But getting an audience costs and needs collaborators.

Brad Birch has put in the years. “Black Mountain” feels like the breakthrough. If that is the case the record shows he has paid his dues.

The three producing companies are each good in their right and together they were likely to pull in the reviewers. The Times (12th August) gave “Black Mountain” a big thumbs up with a sign-off “catch it if you can.” The Times is off-limits to off-subscribers but the local reviewers in Edinburgh are there to be read.

From British Theatre Guide ****

Black Mountain is a taut psychological thriller with many of the elements that characterise classier horror movies. Paul and Rebecca, respectively played by Katie Elin-Salt and Hasan Dixon, take time out at a retreat in the middle of nowhere to recover from some unnamed tragedy.

Their relationship is clearly uncomfortable, although the underlying reasons take time to become any less murky than the dark, hazy atmosphere in the Roundabout, which is the perfect space for this piece, especially when so well utilised by director James Grieve.

The appearance of Sally Messham’s forceful Helen adds to the mystique, freaking Paul out as much as a missing axe and other strange events. These enable Hasan Dixon to excel as a man slowly
losing his marbles or, possibly, having them extracted by external forces.

By the end of 70 intense, sinister minutes, viewers will still not have all of their questions conveniently answered but are likely to have gained a better idea of human psychology and have much to discuss with their fellows on leaving the theatre.

From the Scotsman ****

Paul and Rebecca aren’t on holiday: instead, they’re on a break from their problems, which Rebecca wants to confront and Paul desperately wants to forget. They’ve rented a remote house in the Welsh woods...Birch’s terrific psychological thriller takes a host of familiar elements and transforms them into something compellingly new. The brittle dances of dialogue between the damaged couple actually sound authentic and the impeccable performances of Katie Ellin-Salt and Hasan Dixon add to the veracity. Paul doesn’t need to confront his problem as it’s followed him there in the shape of an old flame (a beatifically unnerving Sally Messham).

This intelligently paced co-production from Paines Plough along with Theatr Clywd and Orange Tree Theatre gradually racks up the tension with dependable genre aspects (a missing axe from the woodshed, the distant sounds of logging chainsaws in the forest) without ever resorting to anything approaching hoary shocks or arch references.

This is as much a serious drama about the difficulties of forgiveness in a relationship (“I want to see you bleed ... and stop bleeding,” says Rebecca, who wants Paul to suffer “equal pain” for his transgressions) as it is a rock-solid genre piece. Performed in the round, director James Grieve and movement co-ordinator Jennifer Jackson use every foot of space to evoke the Welsh countryside, the hesitant distance between the damaged couple and the remote house in the woods they find themselves closeted in. This is a real rarity: a psychological thriller that feels psychologically accurate – and it actually thrills too.

From Broadway Baby ****

Though common in film and literature, it is rare to see a play which fits the bill of psychological thriller. This is done with incredible skill by Brad Birch, Fringe first winner and recipient of the Harold Pinter Commission. Tense, gripping and darkly-comic, Black Mountain is a nail-biting tale which touches on the themes of love and revenge. It is being performed in tandem with Out of Love, utilising the same cast and crew in innovative and varied ways.

...As the actors warm up and the plot thickens, we understand the various nuances in Paul and Rebecca’s relationship. We are privy to Paul’s mental instability as a result of this high-pressure environment, which is capably and effectively portrayed by Dixon. The actors also make incredible use of the space under the direction of James Grieve. Performing in the round, utilising all three entrances and a set of stairs, the audience are wholly involved and immersed in the gripping storyline.

The eerie, on-edge atmosphere created by lighting and sound designers Peter Small and Dominic Kennedy is stirring and hair-raising. Using haze effects, a plethora of LEDs and jarring sounds, they effectively enhance the effect of the story on the audience....Black Mountain is a piece of intelligent, gripping writing.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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