Review: In The Shadow of the Mountain
Image: Old Red Lion Theatre
Rob stands on the edge of oblivion just as the chaotic Ellie careers into his life.
They desperately need each other but is Ellie, who's struggling with her own Borderline Personality Disorder, really the best person to try and help?
This touching, funny story explores a relationship born in the throes of a mental health crisis as a couple struggles to find their place in the world.
Sometimes you can only save one person.
And it's okay if that person is you.
Instinct Theatre and Quantum Frolic Theatre come together in a co-production of Felicity Huxley-Miners' new play In The Shadow of the Mountain.
There's been quite a lot of theatre recently focusing on mental health issues.
Even in the past week I've reviewed Ophelia at the Etcetera Theatre focusing on 3 people suffering the torments of mental ill-health.
This play by Felicity Huxley-Miners zooms in on a specific condition called borderline personality disorder (BPD) also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD).
People suffering from the condition can experience a variety of symptoms, including feeling 'empty' a lot of the time, finding it hard to make and keep stable relationships, self-harming, acting impulsively, feeling suicidal and experiencing intense emotions that can change quickly (you can find a complete list and more information on the Mind website).
In this play, we find many of those symptoms being expressed in the character of Ellie - exceptionally and authentically acted by the playwright.
Impulsive behaviour kicks things off in a startling beginning where, though she's never met him before, Ellie decides that Rob needs help and doesn't hesitate to provide it - whether he wants it or not.
That initial encounter rapidly escalates into something much more intense when Ellie asks Rob back to her flat and he finds himself almost instantly in a relationship that he neither seems to want and certainly never envisaged.
However, Ellie is hugely persuasive and in a highly manipulative way.
And when things don't seem to be going the way she wants, her mood instantly changes, for example to anger or resentment.
Before very long, Rob finds Ellie's unpredictable behaviour extremely unsettling and unnerving - constantly on tenterhooks, he feels he's "just seconds away from something blowing up".
That's the way that we see things too - Ellie's impulsive reactions switch between opposing ends of the emotional spectrum in a flash and there are times when she almost seems like a kind of demonic imp, frequently lying (or at least being economical with the truth) where appropriate to achieve her objectives.
Some of Ellie's lines are very funny because of the blunt, undiplomatic and insensitive turns of phrase she employs.
"I don't care that other people think you're crap" she says to Rob - hardly a comment to make him feel better about himself, or to endear him to her.
I found myself laughing quite readily at some of the extraordinary phrases that Ellie uses but, strangely, many of the audience seemed more reticent
Still, Ms Huxley-Miners' performance is very funny, but also equally moving at times.
Felicity Huxley-Miners (Ellie), David Shears (Rob) - photo: Harry Richards
David Sheers commendably presents a contrasting personality as Rob.
You might define him as a sort of 'ordinary bloke', unpretentious and unassuming.
He has problems of his own, such as a recently failed relationship and he doesn't seem to get on well with his father, but he's able to cope with these issues, even if at the start of the play they seem to be overwhelming him.
However, his attempts to cope with Ellie's personality and behaviour poses a much greater and ultimately insurmountable challenge.
Lightening changes in Ellie's mood are matched by an equally pacy production where only the final scene seemed surplus to requirements, adding very little to what had gone before, even if it wrapped things up neatly.
A sometimes controversial diagnosis, BPD can be regarded as a stigma by sufferers and, watching this play, it's easy to see why.
In The Shadow of the Mountain, though, brings the condition out of the shadows, commendably spreading awareness about it, but also delivering considerable humour and fast-moving drama in the process.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Old Red Lion Theatre
Our show listing for In The Shadow of the Mountain
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