The Sun, the Mountain and Me – Union Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Jack Fairey

Jack Fairey demonstrates an impressive command of storytelling, innovatively combining three separate narratives that reflect on mental health, freedom and expression in in his new play The Sun, the Mountain and Me staged at the Union Theatre. A 75-minute monologue, Fairey’s piece builds a credible picture of an internalised fear slowly taking control of the central character, using sometimes quite subtle allusions with two seemingly different men in other times and places.

About to move in with his girlfriend, artist Arthur starts to withdraw into himself, unwilling to be touched and embarking on a frenzied period of painterly seclusion. Centuries before, Icarus is trapped in a tower with his father where his longing to see the sun results in his fateful flight while in a PoW camp in Africa in 1942, Italian soldier Felice longs to escape so he can climb Mount Kenya.

The Sun, the Mountain and Me is compelling and Fairey weaves his three stories together in interesting and often unexpected ways. Told essentially by contemporary protagonist Arthur, his descent into a kind of mania is well managed, starting with boundless energy and excitement as he explains the circumstances of his life but quietly adding greater extremes of behaviour – a throwaway comment about feeling distanced from his girlfriend Tara, missing a party when consumed in his work – until the audience realises something more serious is wrong.

A lover of Greek myths, initially it is Icarus’ story that accords with Arthur’s own feelings of imprisonment and a growing need to escape, a mutual sense in both stories that if they can get beyond themselves, some greater experience awaits. Fairey takes the parallels almost to their natural conclusion, a decisive point in both dramas that use the same vocabulary of heat, fire and falling to describe the sensations the men experience almost in unison as ‘I’ becomes ‘we.’ Later, Fairey also links the notion of exhaustion and being pulled into the darkness within both experiences.

Other than a surface similarity in longing for significance beyond the prison setting, the other real story in the mountain strand falls by the wayside for some time. But while less overt, there are subtle narrative echoes that Fairey pulls through into Arthur’s story. The concept of being pulled from the brink of a destructive impulse happens also to Felice as his friend and co-climber physically restrain him, while the obscuring white snow of the mountain recurs for Arthur as paint, a blank canvas covering up what came before. Fairey makes little of it in the moment but these bridges between tales add context and perspective to the consistency of human behaviour in very different circumstances.

Performed by Michael Ayiotis, this is a complex piece for a single actor with its intense emotional demands and the need to create three very different worlds and multiple characters. There is movement between storytelling sections as Arthur speaks directly to the audience and very fast-paced dialogue-based scenes in which Arthur converses with other characters, often during angry outbursts.

Ayiotis is excellent in every aspect, from Arthur bouncing gleefully around the stage at his happiest to acting as narrator, piecing together the equally engaging stories of Icarus and Felice with additional props, and then slowly charting Arthur’s breakdown. The argument scenes are particularly impressive, distinguishing between two very irritated characters firing dialogue at one another, while finding considerable pathos in the central role.

Here and there a scene may feel overly contrived to move the plot along, but Fairey is in command of these woven stories and reflective about why true freedom can only exist with confinement.

Runs until 6 August 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Interesting and unexpected

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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