The Yard Theatre, London (****)

© Mark Carline, Jack Monaghan (Dan), Steffan Donnelly (Will), mountaineering pals.

© Mark Carline, Jack Monaghan (Dan), Steffan Donnelly (Will), mountaineering pals.

Winner of the George Devine award for Most Promising Playwright in 2013, Elinor Cook goes from strength to strength.

Following her troubling but exhilarating examination of the impact of photographic images on our lives, Image of an Unknown Young Woman (Gate Theatre, 2015), Cook now turns to something closer to home yet just as expansive in scope. This time, her lens is pointed towards friendship, exploration and the human – if she implies male tendency – to claim ownership, be it geographical or emotional.

© Steffan Donnelly (Will), Amanda Wilkin (Rachel), in love...

© Steffan Donnelly (Will), Amanda Wilkin (Rachel), in love…

Yet there is also something more fundamental going on inside this taut threesome involving two men and a girl; it is nothing less than Cook making the feminist claim for women to be the author of their own story, not merely the appendage to male heroes, as she puts it, a Penelope `knitting my own shroud, unpicking it every night, waiting for Odysseus’. Why, she ultimately asks, shouldn’t women have adventures, conquer the world, even at the cost maybe of the fairy-tale convention of love and settling down with one person?

It ain’t goin’ happen in Cook’s world. But on the way, she gives us a wonderfully delicate, painful cat’s cradle of a drama, told in time jumps and flash-backs of what drives young men – Will and Dan – to climb mountains, the friendship – and competiveness – that goes between them and the exhilaration that comes from the sense of danger and overcoming it.

© Mark Carline, Amanda Wilkin (Rachel), Jack Monaghan (Dan), in love...

© Mark Carline, Amanda Wilkin (Rachel), Jack Monaghan (Dan), in love…

On James Perkins’ blue and white tiled and wooden slatted set, Tamara Harvey’s simple but imaginative production summons icy mountain tops and domestic intimacy, beautifully conveyed by her cast of Amanda Wilkin’s Rachel, on the cusp of a successful academic career and Ph.D in Boston, throwing it all up for Jack Monaghan’s Dan.

But it is Steffan Donnelly, legs and limbs in seeming free-fall as Dan’s friend and climbing companion, Will, who best captures the wildness and thrill of physical challenge and desire to conquer with the vulnerability and deceptively dangerous sense of invincibility that goes with it. Pilgrims indeed, carving out new futures.

© Mark Carline, Steffan Donnelly (Will) and the St Christopher traveller's charm of good luck...

© Mark Carline, Steffan Donnelly (Will) and the St Christopher traveller’s charm of good luck…

A triumph for Cook, HighTide who programmed it and Theatr Clwyd where Harvey is now artistic director.

Runs at The Yard Theatre to Oct 15, 2016; thereafter at Theatre Clywd, Oct 18-29, 2016

A new play by Elinor Cook 


Rachel: Amanda Wilkin
Will: Steffan Donnelly
Dan: Jack Monaghan

Director: Tamara Harvey
Design: James Perkins
Lighting: Nic Holdridge
Sound and Composition: Jared Zeus
Associate Designer: Victoria Smart

Presented by HighTide, Theatr Clywd and Vicky Graham Productions in association with The Yard Theatre

First perf at HighTide Festival, Sept 8, 2016; at The Yard Theatre, Sept 20, 2016 and at Theatr Clywd, Oct 18, 2016

Review first published in Reviewsgate, Sept 2016