Writer: Elinor Cook
Director: Ellie Goodall
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Pilgrims is playing as part of the Directors’ Festival where Masters students from St Mary’s University in Twickenham train for a year at the Orange Tree Theatre culminating in an eight-day showcase of four one-hour plays. Ellie Goodall gets to direct Pilgrims, a modern day tale of adventurers and the women they leave metaphorically waving goodbye from the shore. Goodall directs clearly and discreetly, allowing the play’s fragmented structure to swirl around the audience.
And for a play about mountaineering, the dizzying narrative, flashing back and forward, seems appropriate, especially when Will appears to be suffering from attitude sickness. He’s climbing a mountain (18,200 ft.) in Peru with his best mate Dan. They are experts in adventures, overachievers in that they conquered Everest at the age of 16. For them, climbing is an addiction. Life only seems real when they’ve climbed to the top of some mountain, and they will stop at nothing to get funding for their expeditions.
Rachel also wants an adventure, and she also wants funding. Rather than vertically, she wants to move horizontally, across the Atlantic, to Boston to study folk songs for her PhD. It really is the wrong time to fall in love with Will and Dan, who she meets in a bar. Her compass is in danger of losing its bearings.
Goodall’s direction is helped by the sterling acting from her cast. As Rachel, Adeyinka Akrinrinade convinces as the woman trapped by gender expectations, and Nicholas Armfield provides a vulnerability to the otherwise hearty Will. But best of all is Luke MacGregor, who sympathetically plays Dan’s solitariness and ingenuousness.
The three of them are busy, too, carrying planks of wood and boxes across the stage, to conjure up mountains and nightclubs, but most of these props are unnecessary as Lex Kosanke’s Arctic sound design and Chris McDonnell’s cool lights deliver most of the time and place. The bare stage with the explorers’ voices echoing against the walls is the most effective rendering of height.
But apart from this fussiness with the props, this is a good showing by Goodall, and she successfully transports the audience to mountains, and to shores where women wait like Penelope for their errant husbands to come home. In Pilgrim’s conclusion, Goodall also shows that no one need make sacrifices for love, men nor women. This is an astute and well-paced production.
Runs until 11 August 2019