Writer: Felicity Huxley-Miners
Director: Richard Elson
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Girl meets boy, girl Rugby-tackles boy and so begins an imperfect relationship. Felicity Huxley-Miners’ short (70 minutes), bitter-sweet new play introduces us to Ellie and Rob, a couple who we come to feel need a lot of things in life, but not each other.
The opening scenes play like an old-fashioned screwball romcom in which, say, Goldie Hawn could have been Ellie and the writer, taking on the role herself, certainly plays it that way. However, we already know that Ellie’s dramatic first entrance had been to intervene when Rob was about to jump under a train, which leads us to expect that the play will take us to much darker places.
David Shears gets Rob, the ordinary Geordie bloke who has just lost his girlfriend to his best mate, precisely right, but the chemistry between him and Huxley-Miners’ Ellie always feels completely wrong. If this is a deliberate ploy to show a dysfunctional relationship, it is very clever acting indeed. Having rescued Rob, Ellie goes several stages further than a typical Samaritan and invites him to share her bed. “Too much too soon” we think and we are right.
The needy stare in Huxley-Miners’ eyes, her frail demeanour and the desperation in her gestures make it clear that Ellie is by far the more troubled of the two. Having lured Rob into her web, she uses all her guile to keep him there, but this central section of the play is its least convincing. Rob’s inability to walk out is irritating, as are Ellie’s semi-comic attempts to keep him. We are told that Rob is close to his mother, but not his father and that Ellie is estranged from both her parents, but deeper knowledge of their past emotional lives would have helped us to understand them better and to care more for them.
At a time when the mental health issues affecting young people, facing the intense pressures of modern life, are being brought into sharper focus, the play has much to say. Rob, coming out of a failed relationship and discontented with a job that he hates, struggles to see the point of carrying on. Ellie is told pointedly that she needs to like herself, but she persists with the misguided mission to make Rob, a man too wrapped up in his own problems, to like her instead.
Director Richard Elson’s production tunes in well to the shifting tones of the play. In the Shadow of the Mountain needs more depth and it needs more polish, but it makes a brave stab at probing the turbulence inside so many young minds today.
Runs until 2 June 2018 | Image: Contributed