Writer: Carmen Nasr
Director: Guy Jones
Piecing together the jigsaw of emotions, questions and motives in the thrilling new drama The Climbers may sometimes seem like an uphill struggle – but staying the course is utterly rewarding.
The Theatre by the Lake audience enters to be greeted by a simple but striking set, representing the Himalayas (just the first of impressive set designs by Max Johns). It is not long before the chill of the air conditioning and eerily subtle sound (a part of the atmospheric design by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite) and evocative lighting (Jess Bernberg) causes many to don jackets and teeth begin to chatter. It is a clever curtain-raiser to Carmen Nasr’s twisting and gripping play in which the higher the altitude the more unreliable the truth – an important writer’s note in a drama where climbers are attempting to conquer the world’s highest mountain and in one attempt a climber goes missing.
On the surface the play is fascinating enough: a mystery involving husband and wife climbers and their Sherpa guide who return from a perilous expedition up Everest minus the husband, who the wife says has fallen to his death, while others claim he was stuck under a ledge and abandoned. There is even a whisper that he might be alive. The pulsating uncertainty that develops in the play is reflected in the line of another climber, who says, “There’s more than one truth that high up.” So, who do we believe? What is the right perspective when everyone tells different stories? As the white sheets representing the mountains fly away to reveal layer upon layer of new facts (or maybe even delusions) nothing is crystal clear.
Nasr has created an enthralling study of love, passion, ambition, break-ups and the drive to succeed whatever the odds. It’s a believable and charming love story in which relatively inexperienced Yasmin and Charlie (powerful performances by Claire Lams and Marc Graham, who allow the realities to be revealed as their true characters thaw before our eyes in scenes that jump backwards and forwards) make a promise to each other to press on in their ascent whatever happens. Focussing on that core promise is what exposes the truth to the audience, which needs to concentrate throughout as what is being revealed isn’t automatically obvious. The realisation of what has happened may be shocking to some and empowering to others and the writing combined with the tightest direction by Guy Jones makes the journey an exciting one.
There’s a highly magnetic performance from Manish Gandhi as the guide Tshering Sherpa, using his own accent as he narrates what he accepts is not his story to tell, reverting to something reflecting his ethnicity when with others, all the time living up to a family tradition of loyalty, hardiness and expertise yet with a sense that their role is underappreciated.
Connie, the investigator trying to determine what actually happened, is brought to life in Louise Mai Newberry’s often comic turn tempered by grief, problem-solving with Jammie Dodgers and regularly blaming the altitude for her bewilderment. Amelia Isaac Jones is polished as Gwen, the climber who provides the persistent reminder that there is no such thing as truth on the mountains while peddling a brand of smooth seduction, and Shenagh Govan is excellent as the hard and disbelieving mother desperate to discover what really happened.
The pre-publicity for The Climbers suggested part love story, part ghost story, and while there are eerie vibes the dreams and visions aspect of the drama are seldom spooky. But the play is wonderfully enigmatic, exploring endings and new beginnings, obsession with goals at the expense of relationships and how determination to live by the truth can be a different experience even for those sharing the same journey.
Runs until 16 July 2022 | Image: The Other Richard