There’s only so far talking can get you. Sometimes you need to take a more Salomé or Judith style approach to resolving a situation. Or so it seems in Black Mountain, the new play from Brad Birch premiering at the Summerhall Roundabout. Rebecca (Katie Elin-Salt) and Paul (Hasan Dixon) have headed up a mountain as part of a last ditch attempt to salvage their status as a couple. Rather than a trail of gingerbread following them into the fairy tale wood, the characters are surrounded by the crumbs of their relationship; the little remnants that still connect them despite all the trust gluing them together having eroded away.
Rebecca shares much in common with the classic creepy housewife. She begins the piece almost as if we are seeing her through Paul’s eyes – the irritating partner who provides a running commentary of the world’s events: ‘Oh, you’ve been out to the shed,” she say, when he’s been out to the shed. But as the plot unfolds, the sympathy of the piece shifts to her and she acquires an uncanny air that gives her earlier comments the suggestion of deliberate subterfuge. When Paul reveals himself as chronically unsuited to the rural conditions like a blistered, splintered and bitten anti-Boy Scout, it’s as if even the environment thinks he’s a bit of a dick.
And if it’s not the midges and the wood chips that are going to get Paul, something certainly is. Black Mountain shovels together a great mound of horror tropes: the lost and lonely Great Outdoors, the wronged partner (or, in this case, perhaps two wronged partners), the misplaced weapon and more. My personal favourite is the mere existence of a woodshed. Imagine a scenario where someone invites you down to a woodshed. Now imagine accepting that invite with anything other that solid gold fear in your heart. A woodshed.
The inclusion of all the recognisable Susan Hill issue elements of the gothic makes Black Mountain both frustratingly broad and enjoyably knowing. There’s something so deliberate about the motifs, particularly the collision of them with an otherwise straight domestic drama, that there are moments when it all works if you go with it in the manner of watching an Agatha Christie on TV without cynicism. Yet it also appears to be lacking a big chunk of story somewhere or anything genuinely subversive or clever done with the ‘something’ lurking out there in the dark.
I watched Black Mountain on the day of the Summerhall fire alarm. The production was stopped around half way though, then restarted again once most of the audience had filed back in. The cast handled the interruption – plus a further one when more of the audience leapt up to dash off upon realising the new end time (and the Summerhall Roundabout isn’t a very easy space to dash out of) – with impressive coolness and professionalism. There’s the outline of a decent play here, but it feels like the work unfortunately got lost somewhere out there in the deep, dark woods.
Black Mountain is on until 26 August 2017 at Summerhall Roundabout. Click here for more details.