For fans of Seventies style Thriller there is much to admire In Brad Birch’s Black Mountains, performed by Paines Plough. Paul (Hasan Dixon) finds himself in a remote farmhouse, trying to save his relationship with Rebecca (Katie Elin-Salt). The idea is to escape from it all to work on their relationship, but it feels more like a lab experiment as Rebecca is ice cold, demanding they sleep in separate rooms. Enter Helen (Sally Messham) who appears uninvited late at night and tries, when Rebecca’s back is turned, to persuade him to come back to her. She is at first, through the foggy gloom, a relief, a warm, concerned and caring person – but is she? Are the two women in his life in cahoots as they try to mess with his head, or is Rebecca haplessly unaware of her identity and her story? The plot, much like the smoke from the machine in Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre, begins to thicken. After chopping wood for the fire, Paul develops a splinter. As it becomes infected, his mind is affected. How much of what he sees and hears is real, or how much of it is fantasy? But as he’s the bumbling, indecisive type, it’s hard to tell. To echo Helen when she asks “why are you so scared of talking, Paul? To anyone? What are you hiding?” we are left wondering how much sympathy we can throw his way.
How To Be a Kid
A secret universally denied to children, is that parents are just people. Often frail, frightened, and struggling to hold it together as they try to make ends meet, their world can be as terrifying as it is fulfilling. Adults know this of course, but this excellent play by Sarah McDonald-Hughes tells the story from the child’s perspective. Molly (Katie Elin-Salt), after her mother is left alone after the death of their Nan (both parts played by Sally Messham), is left to take care of Joe (a dinosaur obsessed, clingy younger brother, played with verve by Hasan Dixon), a task that is at times to much for her. Molly is a superhero and a joy as she tries her best to fill her depressed mother’s shoes. This effervescent and often sad play explores the nature of friendship and isolation. We’re confronted with what it means to have nobody on your level to share your feelings with, which is naturally topical these days with how much pressure is plied on teenage girls. Fizzing with energy, a highlight being a neat movement piece emphasising the exhausting repetition of a child’s routine, there is a real sense of how being a young carer can grind you down. Nevertheless, the overall hopeful message is that transitions are a part of family life, but you can cope. A lesson for adults as well as kids.