Writer: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Director: Elizabeth Newman
Reviewer: Harriet Mallion
Winter Hill is a familiar landmark in the North West, its shining beacon is a glowing reminder of lofty heights, wet, wild nature and windswept moors. From a romanticised view of this iconic landmark is born a new production from writer Timberlake Wertenbaker which imagines a no-so-distant future where the pristine silhouette of Winter Hill has begun sprouting a dangerous pox, the tell-tale signs of rural development.
The play begins in the lobby of a vast hotel construction located on Winter Hill. A curious book group have chosen to explore the site, although not entirely with permission. As Winter Hill develops the audience see glimpses of militant ideologies and they slowly begin to realise that this group of enthusiastic readers are not as utterly innocent as they first appear. They talk exhaustively of social destruction and the role of the heroine’s intervention, slowly twisting their theories into far more explosive practices.
Among this performance of guerrilla gossiping, there are some powerful opportunities for character development and the cast do not disappoint. Janet Henfrey presents a witty and ferocious Felicity. Full of life, but frustrated by the limitations of her aging body and perfectly able mind. Whilst Denise Black’s Dolly harnesses the power of persuasion and coyly tempts the members of the book group into considering the impact of a more volatile protest. It is unfortunate that at times the script itself seems to disrupt the momentum of the production. The excessive use of comical one-liners, although amusing, actually interrupt some of the most verbally intriguing parts of the play.
Together the women sway back and forth, presenting reason and logic against action and force. Their experiences and memories serve as a platform to vocalise and explore their frustrations. Beth and Irene (Louise Jameson and Cathy Tyson) both advocate caution but as Dolly’s determination turns to desperation their certainty falters and the call of the decisive literary heroine echoes throughout the construction site.
Numerous scenes jump forward in time, introducing Dolly’s daughter (Fiona Hampton) who is exploring the aftermath of the events of Winter Hill. These scenes are presumably intended to build intrigue and suspense but although Hampton’s determination to uncover the truth is convincing the scenes sadly do not achieve the intended impact. Instead, these parts of the production feel disconnected and confusing, adding to the feeling that the play is jumping around in an undefined timeline.
The stage is cleverly littered with scaffolding and building supplies, creating a powerful backdrop to the piece which doubles as a reminder of The Octagon’s three-year development promise, beginning later this year. Although the stage looked the part in creating a convincing construction site the staging of Winter Hill felt restricted and at times motionless. It would have been interesting to explore ways of creating more movement within the performance.
Winter Hill explores some interesting themes of regeneration, opportunities for growth and development of local towns and local governments. Its social commentary comes at an opportune moment in UK history, and whilst the script flirts with a political agenda it seems to jump rather extremely from passive frustrations to radical activism, and the leap is not entirely convincing.
Runs until 3 June 2017 | Image: Richard Davenport