Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Katie Elin-Salt in Taut, Tense Drama

At Theatr Clwyd

Theatr Clwyd, Paines Plough & the Orange Tree- Black Mountain , The Orange Tree , February-20-18
At Theatr Clwyd by Theatr Clwyd, Paines Plough & the Orange Tree- Black Mountain The Senedd Culture Committee enquiry continues. Its remit is to investigate three areas. So far it has been pretty much the Pareto Principle in action. Eighty percent of the enquiry, at least on the evidence of the public sessions, has been devoted to twenty percent of the remit.

Wales exported more theatre to England and beyond in 2017 than in any previous year. It did so on the basis of production investment. A co-production with the Royal Court is a mighty first and a colossal credit to the Sherman. So too with Theatr Clwyd. In the Orange Tree the two audience members to my side engage, as happens, in conversation- theatre is always a kind of fellowship. I explain the background: three producing companies, three actors, three dramatists, one director and creative team. The three productions, a span of wide thematic and tonal variation, had attracted uniformly high critical praise and audience response.

Rehearsals for Katie Elin-Salt, Sally Messham and Hasan Dixon began in May 2017. Since then the three plays have done Mold, Edinburgh, Margate, Lincoln, Stoke, Darlington, Poole...The five weeks at the Orange Tree are the finale to a lot of performance to a lot of people.

“Black Mountain” is theatre as raw and as unadorned as the three actors are ever likely to experience. It has no set. Hasan Dixon has a torch for two night-time scenes. Otherwise there are no props. The actors have just their own voices and bodies and Brad Birch's script on an empty floor with audience on four sides.

The production has a dramaturg in the form of Guy Jones. However the final result of what we see and hear has emerged it gets it right. The dialogue tips random conversation early on into a moment of tension between country visitors Rebecca and Paul. The essence of theatre writing is crescendo and ebb. Brad Birch orchestrates his seventy minutes artfully. Small actions, as in the removal of a splinter, assume unsettling echoes. There are no authorial opinions about the world and no speeches. Katie Elin-Salt turns mid-way to her companion and says “I need fairness...in pain. I need you to bleed.” It has a chill all the greater for its spareness.

The Scotsman is now alone outside London in adhering to a tradition of quality theatre criticism. Last summer its review of “Black Mountain” had its characteristic acuity. “Birch’s terrific psychological thriller takes a host of familiar elements and transforms them into something compellingly new.” That is true as is its reviewer's observation “This is as much a serious drama about the difficulties of forgiveness in a relationship.”

All relationship contains its element of distance. Over the course of “Black Mountain” that distance amplifies, its cause an unstated event in the past. Director James Grieve creates an ending of brilliance in harness with Peter Small's lighting and Dominic Kennedy's sound design. All the resources of theatre are brought into play to deliver the emotional whack of the kind that only live performance can do.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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