Review Black Mountain, Paines Plough, Theatr Clwyd by Bethany McAulay

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
The Roundabout Theatre is small – and though I initially appreciated the intimacy of the compact audience, as soon as the lights dimmed, I began to experience intense claustrophobia. This, I believe, was intentional on behalf of the production team, who succeeded tremendously in their apparent attempt at creating an almost Artaudian production. I cannot distinguish a moment in which I was not on edge, or physically quivering, for the relentless mystery of the play. Certainly, Brad Birch’s ‘Black Mountain’ is the most refreshingly original, and impressively sinister play that I have ever witnessed.

Hasan Dixon portrayed Paul with an extraordinarily potent, compelling, and convincing performance; so much so that one may mistake his acting for genuine fear and frustration. This, naturally, only strengthened the air of threat that seemed to consume the theatre as effectively as the lingering clouds of mist (which, equally, were outstandingly atmospheric). His portrayal was, above all, believable – and that is predominantly what allowed for the exponentially threatening atmosphere that left me feeling equally as terrified as Paul himself.

Sally Messham as Helen was extremely well played, and though the actress’ characterisation of the character was beyond satisfactory, the character itself was difficult to understand. Helen’s flaws seemed to be ingrained not in Messham’s performance, but in the script itself, as a character who was initially presented as understanding and concerned for Paul’s wellbeing, abruptly became depraved and psychopathic; which seemed too unrealistic, even for this play
In point of fact, I found that the script lacked substance. Most of the action and thrill derived largely from the physicality and manner of the actors, as well as the technical and atmospheric devices employed. I believe that, had I not viewed this play in the intimacy of the round, and thus felt so closely involved within the performance, the dialogue would not have been sufficiently strong or theatrical enough to create much tension at all.

For a large part of the play, Katie Elin-Salt’s portrayal of Rebecca was almost frustratingly unconvincing, and was mostly comprised of repetitive gestures and an unchanging tone of voice. In contrast to Dixon’s consistently adaptable tone and manner, Elin-Salt’s performance did not appear to vary much at all, and became very unstimulating, very quickly. However, I began to understand the characterisation only in the final moments of the play, when Rebecca’s soullessness became intensely ominous, and I started to truly appreciate the darkness of the character. I truly regret that this was only prominent within the final ten minutes.
Although the set itself was essentially non-existent, the production was impressively and ingeniously staged, and though techniques such as sudden descents into darkness were frequently adopted, i was equally as stupefied by the final burst or strobe of glaring light than I was by the first. My feelings of paranoia and entrapment were prominent and consistent throughout the entire performance (though this was certainly not unpleasant – I acknowledged and appreciated the psychological thrill). Additionally, the employment of a single torch on stage whilst the remainder of the theatre remained in absolute darkness, as well as the frequent ear-splitting screams, were profoundly, and intriguingly, effective. Equally, the tension was enhanced tremendously during the moment in which Elin-Salt and Messham disappeared from audience view and ran frantically around the exterior of the seating area. Particularly during this moment, their menace felt like a personal threat.
‘Black Mountain’ was so consistently immersive, and felt so isolated from the world outside the theatre, I had to remind myself on numerous occasions throughout that it was merely a performance.

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