Black Mountain

Brad Birch's creepy play uses horror tropes to portray a haunted relationship

★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
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Black Mountain
Published 12 Aug 2017

Brad Birch’s play is a balancing act between relationship drama and horror movie. Paul and Rebecca have gone to a remote cottage in, presumably, Wales’ Black Mountains. But it’s not a 'holiday' – they’re here to mend their broken relationship. He’s had an affair. She needs him to feel her pain.

An atmosphere of ominous dread hangs over proceedings. Birch includes sinister tropes both droll and genuinely creepy, from the Stephen King novels and a missing axe, to a dying bird and a sense that someone is watching them. Paul seems to be punished by a thousand cuts: midges that only bite him, the splinter that produces waves of blood, blisters that plague his feet… but it’s all just a coincidence, right?

Birch never decides either way, maintaining a fruitful, atmospheric tension. Similar questions surround the way Paul is ghosted by the other woman. Literal or all in his head, it’s an effective stage image for how infidelity can become a tangible presence in a relationship.

Black Mountain feels constrained by its 70-minute run-time: more a character study than a full portrait. We could use more background. Why are they so determined to make a go of an obviously floundering relationship? But the dialogue is good, heavily saturated with unspoken meaning. Interactions about coffee and lost notes become weighted and freighted, while circuitous arguments about arguing have an unpleasantly authentic tang.

Katie Elin-Salt is suitably glassy-eyed and chilly as Rebecca, while Hasan Dixon twists like an animal caught in a trap as Paul. James Grieve’s stylish direction ratchets things up a notch too, with great, gloomy lightning design from Peter Small—cut with unnerving white flashes—a manifestation of the crackle of guilt between them.