Theatre review: Black Mountain

Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Paul and Rebecca aren't on holiday: instead, they're on a break from their problems, which Rebecca wants to confront and Paul desperately wants to forget.

Black Mountain

Roundabout @ Summerhall (Venue 26)


Paul and Rebecca aren’t on holiday: instead, they’re on a break from their problems, which Rebecca wants to confront and Paul desperately wants to forget. They’ve rented a remote house in the Welsh woods where a couple of leftover Stephen King paperbacks tip the hat to one of King’s lesser – non-supernatural – novellas (although to specify which one risks giving the game away).

There’s no shame in taking a chilly sliver of inspiration from elsewhere and Brad Birch’s terrific psychological thriller takes a host of familiar elements and transforms them into something compellingly new. The brittle dances of dialogue between the damaged couple actually sound authentic and the impeccable performances of Katie Ellin-Salt and Hasan Dixon add to the veracity. Paul doesn’t need to confront his problem as it’s followed him there in the shape of an old flame (a beatifically unnerving Sally Messham). This intelligently paced co-production from Paines Plough along with Theatr Clywd and Orange Tree Theatre gradually racks up the tension with dependable genre aspects (a missing axe from the woodshed, the distant sounds of logging chainsaws in the forest) without ever resorting to anything approaching hoary shocks or arch references.

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This is as much a serious drama about the difficulties of forgiveness in a relationship (“I want to see you bleed ... and stop bleeding,” says Rebecca, who wants Paul to suffer “equal pain” for his transgressions) as it is a rock-solid genre piece. Performed in the round, director James Grieve and movement co-ordinator Jennifer Jackson use every foot of space to evoke the Welsh countryside, the hesitant distance between the damaged couple and the remote house in the woods they find themselves closeted in.

This is a real rarity: a psychological thriller that feels psychologically accurate – and it actually thrills too.

Rory Ford

Until 26 August.. Today 1:25pm.