Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: 'In The Shadow Of The Mountain' at the Old Red Lion, 17th May 2018

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 1 Stars

I have two ambitions for this review. I want to be humane and I want to be efficient. In The Shadow Of The Mountain was created with the best of intentions: to address the stigma and misconceptions surrounding Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It fails to do this. More prosaically, it is not a very good play.

The plot concerns the relationship between Ellie (Felicity Huxley-Miners, also writing) and Rob (David Shears). They 'meet-cute' on a train platform when Ellie hurls herself at Rob after she suspects that he's suicidal. Though Rob is annoyed and confused, he follows her home after she offers him casual sex. Ellie's behaviour grows more bizarre once we're at her flat, with a very confused Rob spending the rest of the 70-minute play dealing with her rapid mood swings, impulsive behaviour and emotional manipulation. 

There are multiple reasons why In The Shadow Of The Mountain fails to achieve what it wants to do. To be precise, in the words of the playwright, the goal was to kick back against "...portraying women with BPD as difficult and deliberately manipulating ... All of this contributes to the harmful, negative portrayal and is so damaging to both those affected and those with little personal experience."

If this was the aim then the play has catastrophically failed. Ellie is written, played and directed as the villain of the piece, objectively shown to be deliberately manipulative to Rob. It's bizarre that the play claims it is pushing back against harmful stereotypes of mental illness at the exact same time it is leaning into them as hard as possible. The tone of the piece is so skewiff that after the ominous first couple of scenes I assumed we were heading into outright horror territory, and that Rob would soon find himself shoved into a sack and dismembered, Audition-style.

This happens because the audience only sees Ellie via Rob. We get to know her as he does, and his lack of comprehension of her mental situation means that we're forever on the outside looking in. If the aim of the play is to show empathy with someone with BPD we need to understand her internal processes and see the situation from her perspective, which this play cannot achieve by virtue of its structure.

Granted, In The Shadow Of The Mountain would be a much more difficult play to write if it were told from Ellie's perspective, but it's not impossible. For example, Rachel Bloom's CW sitcom Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is about the protagonist's BPD, and that manages to present the illness accurately and humanely while delivering a series of toe-tappin' musical numbers (read more in this excellent Elle article).

Compounding all of this are two unconvincing performances. Huxley-Miner's Ellie spends large swathes of the play acting like a textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girl ("MPDGs are usually static characters who have eccentric personality quirks and are unabashedly girlish. They invariably serve as the romantic interest for a (most often brooding or depressed) male protagonist.") while David Shears' Rob is barely a character and more a collection of perplexed stares. Then there's the lacklustre set and...

Y'know what I just feel bad now. It's one thing to stick the boot into a production ruined by ego or stupidity, it's another to do it to a play obviously written with good intentions that has gone completely awry. I wish I had nicer things to say about In The Shadow Of The Mountain - but, well, I don't.

In The Shadow Of The Mountain is at the Old Red Lion until 2nd June. Tickets here.

Tags: , , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'In The Shadow Of The Mountain' at the Old Red Lion, 17th May 2018”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights