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Avalanche – Bloom Theatre

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writer: Simon Fraser, with Jack Albert Cook

Director: Alistair Wilkinson

Gravity’s a bitch. Regardless of how high we soar, how in control and free we feel – reality will always grasp at our heels and crash us back to earth. No stranger to finding themselves on the precipice, Alex has skied his entire life. It’s what he knows, even if it hasn’t always been what he loves. There’s something ritualistic in the slow, almost painful climb he undertakes as he struggles towards the peak. Alex has sacrificed many of the intimacies and social opportunities we live for in pursuit of what he thought was his strength.

But Avalanche is more than a literal definition of a tumbling mound of snow and ice. Mentally, avalanching is something many more with have experienced, than the equally as life-threatening physical hazard. When things build and build and regardless of just how well-composed, we suspect ourselves to be – there will always be a release. A traumatic experience of rape leaves Alex physically violated and mentality distraught. Expectedly, there is no longer a capability to pretend or maintain an illusion. The intense loneliness Alex has felt, the endless, painful hours striving through the snow have ultimately not landed Alex where he wants to be.

There’s a nuanced structure to the script which snowballs, reflective of an avalanche’s physical, literal meaning. Gradually the bottled trauma and grievances grow, gathering and building as Alex confronts more distressing and horrific life events until the cascade is unbearable to withstand. Simon Fraser’s writing fends off the risk of melodrama and grounds the production in well-judged realism, heightening the awareness of male sexual assault victims, as well as the silence and judgements surrounding victims.

Frostbitten and bare, the set design is ramshackle – a reflection on the mental decay Alex is undergoing, despite his attempts to repair and paper the cracks. Torn plastic sheets, dimly lit, and cold stone surround Alex, torn apart in a manner devoid of control. The only potential release and relief for Alex is a snowscape, the very crisp whiteness he trudges through endlessly cast on the walls behind him – a haven.

Attempts are made to match the cinematography and digital experience with the root of theatrical staging. Alistair Wilkinson’s direction mixes fade-ins, montages and, at their most effective, a rhythmic beat, electronic and droning, tapping into the psychology of Alex. It can come over as superficial though, and rather than using the techniques to demonstrate scene transitions instead causes awkward pauses and delays leaving a chill in the air.

A paramount issue with Avalanche is this coldness drifts into Sonny Poon Tip’s performance. Poon Tip inhibits a complex character and does a sterling job communicating the monologue with limited space. Indeed, this claustrophobic nature questions as to how much of Alex’s self-isolation is self-inflicted. The rhythmic, almost vacant, recitations of Fraser’s script though begin to grind as the production moves forward.

In essence, a detachment is easily a potential result of rape, but this doesn’t seem to be the case with the characterisation. Perhaps more an issue with Wilkinson’s direction, the pacing is as glacial as the production’s namesake. Extended pauses snip away at the tension Poon Tip is attempting to build, and his limitations of facial or cognitive expressions and movements give the audience a touch of the cold shoulder.

A fascinating monologue, Avalanche is a slow-burn which slips on the ice it tries to break through. Well-written, almost poetic on occasions, Bloom Theatre’s production tips its pacing a little too heavily in the gradual build-up, and for a forty-minute piece, they pay the price by sacrificing momentum. Upfront and raw, Fraser’s writing comes from a place of understanding, placing under-valued and judged experiences at the forefront of a show with tremendous potential.

Runs here until 7 February 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Tremendous potential

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