Death is many things to many people as Long Time Dead, the latest collaboration between Paines Plough and Drum Theatre Plymouth, explores in dramatic detail.
Scottish playwright Rona Munro, known best for her adaptation of Watership Down for the Lyric, Rehab (BBC2) and Almost Adult (Channel 4), has long been fascinated by mountains and those who climb them. With Long Time Dead she draws the audience into the breathtakingly beautiful and terrifying world of the climber who does not actively court death but knows it is always lurking only a mistake away.
Evocative staging by Linbury Prize winner Miriam Buether places the action on a simple but stunning set of stark white which is by turns the mountain and the hospital while director Roxana Silbert’s attention to detail is superb: the actors’ mountaineering skills are so honed that their ability is believable and so becomes, rightly, secondary to the dialogue.
Gnome, Grizzly and Dog live to climb to the limits. They work in dead-end jobs for seven months of the year to raise the cash to finance their next trip ‘up the hill’. Climbing is the point of their lives.
Grizzly (Garry Cooper), lost a brother on the mountain face in a storm some 13 years previously so is drawn back purportedly to conquer the summit but hoping to find the body; Dog (Jon Foster) is enthused with the thrill of it all: the danger, the pushing of limits, the being there first but is determined to supersede lost Pete in Grizzly’s mind; and Gnome (Lesley Hart) is capable but still learning, loving the sights and sounds, and determined to push her own frontiers in her own way.
All three actors excel, sweeping the audience with them into the icy heights, forging tremendous relationships with nothing short of real chemistry between them.
Jan Pearson plays the Widow who nurses Gnome and Grizzly back to health. Her acute loss shapes her life as she refuses to put the enigmatic death of her husband behind her, indulging instead in dodgy affairs away from home. Pearson plays the Widow superbly in all the part’s complexity - meticulous and precise in her professional capacity as nurse, she is sexy in play but nothing can heal her broken heart.
Long Time Dead is a simple and to some extent predictable tale, but nonetheless a fascinating evening’s entertainment.