Put very simply, ‘Pilgrims’ is a circular play about a fascinating love triangle. But, as you might expect from Elinor Cook and Theatre Clwyd, it is infinitely more than that.
This is a deeply engaging, highly concentrated, 65 minutes of intelligent, finely-honed writing and impeccable acting. Every emotion is explored. Every nuance is nailed. Every detail is dissected.
We are at 18 thousand 200 feet and two young climbers are in sub-zero trouble. Will has damaged his leg. Dan won’t leave him. Neither is likely to survive. And Mountain Madness is creeping in.
The third presence is Rachel, the girl they have both loved. Carefully signposted, the play rock-hops back and forth through the past decade of their lives as they fall in and out with each other and the guys prepare for one last, healing climb. The pressure for the summit is intense … and heightens the audience.
Counter balancing the exhilaration of adventurous challenge with the passions of young love, makes this a remarkable and memorable play. Cook has squirmed her way into the silent territory of the climber’s mind; transcending the usual glib explanation of “because it’s there” with a complex but clear justification for risking your life. “It’s like a sickness. The higher I get, the safer I feel”. Our gut feeling that all climbers must be slightly bonkers is tempered by immense admiration…and then plunged down a ravine when bloody mindedness claims them.
The actors are terrific; completely on top of the daunting job. You sense they could, if required, present the whole play backwards at the drop of a hat.
Steffan Donnelley (pictured) as Will, is gangly, wild and fragile. Jack Monaghan, as Dan, is reasonable and realistic; as if rooted by crampons. Amanda Wilkin is corporeal in their embraces in her down-to-earth flash backs; and mysteriously mercurial on the mountain. Cook politely declines to spell out any practical mechanism for her being there. She just is.
Working only with wonderful words and a couple of ropes, the team paint The Himalayas in your mind. In fact, the representation of the mountain is a perfectly horizontal, tiled, raised surface; but director Tamara Harvey has her cast clamber recklessly about it with foolhardiness in their limbs. The concern is all ours. I could feel my pulse quicken at the edges.
There is levity too. Every climber I’ve met is a ‘gear freak’ and each would laugh at the very idea of taking the companionship of a St Christopher medal with them…whilst slyly tucking one into their shirt.
These laughs leaven the demanding intensity of a play that fully respects the ability of the audience to jolly well think for itself. Bravo!
Visit www.theatrclwyd.com for bookings & information about Theatr Clwyd.
Photo : Mark Carline