City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Long Time Dead

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 09 August 2007

Show details
Traverse Theatre
Paines Plough
Running time: 
Roxana Silbert (director), Rona Munro (writer), Ben park (composer), Miriam Buether (designer), George Perrin (assistant director), Chahine Yavroyan (lighting designer), Richard Price (sound designer) Straun Leslie (movenment director)
Gary Cooper (Grizzly), Jon Foster (Dog), Lesley hart (Gnome), Jan Pearson (The Widow)

Half-way up (or down) a mountain looks like a daft place to tell jokes, but when you've just saved one of your number from two nasty falls and there's every chance you'll all be dead of frostbite and exposure by morning, maybe the only sensible thing to do is laugh. That's the way Grizzly
(Gary Cooper), Dog (Jon Foster), and Gnome (Lesley Hart) look at it, anyway.

Rona Munro's script gets close to the mind-set of the obsessive mountain
climber, and the grim humour favoured by those who know the next mistake they
make could be fatal. Munro's characters go into attack mode from their opening
moments, and the pace rarely falters, even when Gnome is air-lifted to hospital
and Grizzly encounters the Widow, (Jan Pearson), a nurse who's still nursing the
loss of her husband as well as (and maybe through) her patients.

The bravado
and banter of the hills then gives way to some more delicate manoeuvres in the emotional
zones. It also gives way to the heart of Munro's play - the ways in which we treasure the dead, perhaps because memory is part of self, and abandoning them is an abandonment of what has made us.

It's in the hospital scenes we begin to discover Grizzly's quiet obsession
with climbing a route he'd first planned with his deceased brother, the one
being climbed when Gnome had her particularly nasty accident. Grizzly's guilt
over this leads him to make a god-implicated promise to give up climbing if she
recovers, rapidly cut through by the Gnome's question on regaining
consciousness 'When are we going up the hill, Dad?'

The second act largely takes place on said hill, and some passable
and interesting attempts to make climbing around a set believable. The tension
created is certainly believable enough, as Dog and Grizzly make for the summit,
only for Grizzly to acknowledge that the weather, and by implication his own
mind-set, mean the hill, or at least their particular approach, must be left
for another day.

Although Munro's sense of climbing camaraderie and culture is
excellent, there is less sense of the sport itself as physical chess against
both hill and elements, even though nature does, in part help drive the action.

There's a lot to like about this play, most particularly the
characters, all of which are well-delineated and ably characterised. As mentioned,
the pace and sense of attack rarely falters and there's genuine enjoyment to be
had, not least from watching four fine actors work. And yet, and yet .. perhaps
the black humour of the opening and much of the play doesn't fully prepare the
audience for the comparative sunny uplands on which the play ends. Nevertheless,
the journey there is a highly enjoyable one.

Times: 5-26 August (not Mondays), times vary, see Fringe and Traverse programmes

Copyright Bill Dunlop 2007. Published on 2007