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Black Mountain

by on 11 July 2018

Chill on the Hill

Black Mountain

by Brad Birch

Wild Duck Theatre at OSO Arts Centre until 19th July

Review by Melissa Syversen

A friend once told me that in East Asian countries such as South Korea and Japan, summer is horror-season. The idea is that the chilling sensation that ghosts, horrors and thrillers can illicit down ones’ spine will help counteract the oppressive, humid heat of summer. So, as we continue to endure this remarkable heat wave, Wild Duck Theatre Company’s new play Black Mountain was a good opportunity to test this theory for myself.

Written by Brad Birch, Black Mountain is a one-act psychological thriller in the vein of Gone Girl with a dash of Fatal Attraction. We meet a man named Paul and a woman named Rebecca. Together they have rented an Airbnb in the mountains. It is not immediately clear what their relationship is, but there is an obvious tension between them and they sleep in separate rooms in the house. As the play goes on, we realise that they are a couple going through a hard time following infidelity on the part of Paul. In hopes of a reconciliation, he has taken Rebecca to Black Mountain so that they can talk and work things out together. Rebecca, however, is not as optimistic as her partner as she still struggles to be near him and can’t help but treat him with anger and disdain rooted in the pain he has caused her. An extra wrench is thrown into Paul’s plans however when Helen, the woman with whom he had the affair, shows up in the night to talk. She claims that for her to get closure following their relationship she needs more answers. I do not wish to give away too much of the plot but during Rebecca and Paul’s stay strange things begin to happen in and around the house.

Black Mtn 2

Writer Brad Birch is clearly well versed in the genre he has chosen. The gradual revelation of information is handled very well, and the pacing is slow and steady, building to a very satisfying yet ambiguous conclusion. There is some great and sharp dialogue between Rebecca and Paul. The one thing I did struggle with at times were the characters themselves. Now, I don’t really mind the various ‘crazy/psycho women’ tropes in stories like this, it is something that comes with the genre. What I do struggle with is when it is the female characters one defining character trait. Surely one of the key reasons for Gone Girl success is that the character of Amy is so complex and engaging. She is clearly a disturbed woman, but she is so well realised that you can almost sympathise. In Black Mountain, the women are hard to connect with because all they really do is belittle, nag and harass Paul in various ways. Even moments of vulnerability can feel a bit cold. Apart from some thrown lines about how selfish and cold Paul can be, the audience isn’t given much to hold on to, other than the fact that he cheated. As Rebecca, Fleur de Henrie Pearce feels a bit stiff at times, her expression set in neutral, her body language straight with her arms down her sides. Though it could be a character choice, because in the moments she allows Rebecca’s rage and hurt to bubble to the surface her entire being comes alive. Then, on the other side of the spectrum, Arthur Velarde as Paul is all expression and emotion and played with a straight earnestness. Being the person we see the most, Paul is the most layered and well-written character, but I wish we could see some of his alleged cold and selfish side as well. It would add some more nuance to help elevate the tension and suspense, as the story does sometimes read as sweet, atoning man vs crazy, angry women. I suspect the issue is in part due to the shorter runtime, which is understandable. There is one thing I would suggest altering though, if I may be so bold. One of the characters claims at one point that she had a husband of 40 years. But the actress playing said character is clearly in no way old enough for this to be true. Either the role is intended to be played by an older actor or the character is telling such a bald-faced lie on purpose. Either way, it was a surprisingly jarring statement and looking at my notes I just wrote ‘What? 40?!’

Black Mtn 1

Black Mountain is a well-written thriller and the company succeeded in bringing it to life with good use of props, costume changes and sound. In the end, did I feel the chill down my spine? Not quite, but with Black Mountain Brad Birch makes a solid attempt at a difficult genre that’s not done nearly enough on the stage. Wild Duck Theatre will return to the OSO Community Arts Centre in November with Things I Know To Be True and I am very interested to go and see it.

Melissa Syversen
July 2018

Photography by Marc Pearce Photography ©.

NB.  Black Mountain is part of the Barnes Fringe Festival and will play at the OSO Community Arts Centre, 17-19th of July

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