Review: Black Mountain, Orange Tree

“I think we can only heal if we’re both hurt”

There’s acres of atmosphere in Brad Birch’s Black Mountain – the eerie luminosity of Peter Small’s lighting piercing the dark and bursts of Dominic Kennedy’s sound design curling around unexpected twists and turns. But for all of the creative invention at work here, James Grieve’s production can’t quite cover the feeling of something frustratingly incomplete about the writing, resulting in a hollowness at the heart of this would-be suspenseful thriller.

Part of the Roundabout Plays (with How To Be A Kid and Out of Love), Black Mountain starts off promisingly. We meet Rebecca and Paul as they take up residence in a rural cottage where they’re attempting to work through some problems in their relationship (“I didn’t come on a fucking holiday with you”). Sleeping in separate bedrooms, it is clear there’s something seriously awry here as evidenced by the tension in their every interaction (“you’re saying it with a tone”), even as they’re ostensibly trying to fix things. Continue reading “Review: Black Mountain, Orange Tree”

News: Paines Plough announces their 2018 programme

As Paines Plough’s 2017 Roundabout season of Brad Birch’s Black Mountain, Elinor Cook’s Out Of Love and Sarah McDonald-Hughes’ How To Be A Kid – co-produced with the Orange Tree Theatre and Theatr Clwyd – arrives in London (running until 3rd March), news of their 2018 programme has now been announced.

Roundabout 2018 features world premieres from Georgia Christou (How To Spot An Alien), Simon Longman (Island Town) and Vinay Patel (Sticks and Stones) in co-production with Theatr Clywd and after opening there in Wales, will tour to  touring to The Lowry (Salford), Brewery Arts Centre (Kendal), Lighthouse (Poole), Theatre Royal Margate, Lincoln Performing Arts Centre, Appetite (Stoke-on-Trent), Darlington Theatre Town and Luton Culture. Continue reading “News: Paines Plough announces their 2018 programme”

Review: Selfie, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre

“Ugliness is unfortunate. Beauty is unforgivable”

Written and devised by Brad Birch along with the company of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain’s rep season (this is the second year they’ve ventured into the West End with a triple bill), Selfie is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray reimagined for the iPad generation. Transplanted from the whirl of Victorian bohemia to the vacuous poseurs of Hoxton’s hipsters, the portrait of this Dorian (here a woman) is captured digitally but in other respects, largely follows the downwards spiral of Wilde’s original.

It is grindingly hard to care about Mountford, Shenton is grim and gruelling, Gardner has mediocre material – it is fair to say that Selfie didn’t really click with the critics but in all honesty, I couldn’t see quite what provoked such particular ire. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a fair deal that doesn’t work – especially in relation to the source material – but that this company (made up of 18 to 25 year olds) is being empowered to devise theatre for West End audiences feels like something to be celebrated and if they’re not allowed to take risks now, then when? Continue reading “Review: Selfie, National Youth Theatre of Great Britain at the Ambassadors Theatre”

Review: Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall, Soho Theatre

“I didn’t realise things would be so fucking intense”

The lives of the two characters in Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall start off the most mundane of circumstances: tales of crowded commuting, office politics at the lower end of the scale, doing battle with mercenary credit card and mobile phone companies. But the niggling unease at the stifling monotony of the 9 to 5 has been building up for far too long and when war breaks out in some far-off land, it triggers some deep contemplation into how everyday life there would be affected and in turn provokes a questioning of their own existence.Thus we bear witness to their lives simultaneously imploding and exploding into jagged chaos.

Brad Birch’s enigmatic writing was sparked by a piece of his own poetry – the 4.5 pages of an introduction to the playtext may seem indulgent but actually prove an interesting read – and it maintains much of that feel. A lyrical complexity plays with repeated imagery and phrases to enrich the at-times gnomic text with a sense of thematic unity, but Birch mainly eschews simplistic narrative for an opaqueness of meaning and purpose which frustrates as much as it intrigues. Continue reading “Review: Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall, Soho Theatre”

Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court

Court Shorts is part of the Royal Court’s Rough Cuts season, where works-in-progress and experimental pieces are performed in front of audiences as part of their development. Three plays were performed as rehearsed readings which were Permafrost by Brad Birch, Buried by Alia Bano and Hard Gravity by DC Jackson. This is just a quick recap of the plays for my reference really, as these aren’t being presented as things to review.

Brad Birch’s Royal Court debut, Permafrost, is a meditation on the grieving process set in a Northern town, charting the growing relationship between widowed Mary and Michael, a factory colleague of the deceased man, as she seeks a solace that he can’t quite provide and edging closer to a more meaningful connection as she seeks to maintain the link between them. James Macdonald directed this, stepping in at the last minute as Sam Taylor Wood had to withdraw due to prior commitments which was a shame as it would have been really interesting to see where she was thinking of taking the piece. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Rough Cuts – Court Shorts, Royal Court”