BWW Review: PILGRIMS, Orange Tree Theatre
As part of the Orange Tree Theatre's Directors' Festival, Elinor Cook's lyrical play Pilgrims looks at masculinity, mountains and myths.
Friends Dan and Will scaled Everest when they were just teenagers. This incredible achievement comes to overshadow their adult lives in a variety of destructive ways, particularly when it comes to Rachel, the girl they are both in love with. As they challenge themselves to scale ever-higher heights, they push themselves to the brink.
While the boys are trying to prove their masculinity, back home, Rachel is studying a PhD on folktales. Through this she muses on why women are always the ones to wait for their men to return triumphantly home after their adventures.
As the play shuffles back and forth between the boys' current climb and their shared past, we see the development of their characters. Luke MacGregor is self-assured and serious as Dan, with a darker streak of self-doubt and sensitivity.
Nicholas Armfield is arrogant in his confidence as Will, with a desire to achieve greatness and success at any cost. His biggest insult is to call someone an 'old woman', which sums up his misogynistic attitude perfectly. He is headstrong and slightly reckless in ways that is easy to see how Rachel ultimately chooses Dan over him.
Both characters are very good at demonstrating the reckless and self-destructive behaviour that comes from masculine competitiveness. Their climbing is a metaphor for conquest. However, this competitiveness does not seem to be backed up by a truly convincing friendship. Will and Dan are contrasting characters, but Cook does not create a really credible relationship between them.
As Rachel, Adeyinka Akinrinade questions the expectations of gender in her studies and also her life. If Will and Dan will only return to her after they have achieved great things, what is her role in the situation? Akinrinade is very natural and graceful as Rachel, especially in her awkwardness as she breaks up with Will and then her care and concern for Dan as he prepares to attempt his new conquest.
It is difficult to see what Cook is trying to say with this play; there is no subtly in Rachel's protest about her role in waiting for the boys to return and yet she openly compares herself to Penelope waiting for Odysseus and also bathes Will's feet as though he was Christ and she was Mary Magdalene. Rachel's character struggles to take control of the narrative throughout, despite being an intelligent and erudite woman. Overall, there is someting fairly reductive about this play, with the basic premise being reduced to the classic love triangle.
Cory Shipp's design is as stark and bare as the mountain side and is complimented by Chris McDonnell's cold and bright lighting. However, it seems unlikely that the boys would climb in just thin jackets and without basic equipment such as gloves or hats.
Lex Kosanke's sound design deftly evokes the echoing of the mountains and also the howling of the wind, but it also frequently drowns out the actors' voices, particularly that of Akinrinade.
This is a well-directed production with good performances, but ultimately has fairly little new to say.
Photo Credit: Robert Day