First published in The Times, Monday September 7 2015
The final production in this year’s summer season at the theatre in the hills is an intimate affair: a welcome revival of David Greig’s haunting 2005 play. Pyrenees is a loose sequel to Greig’s 1999 work, The Cosmonaut’s Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union, whose many strands includes the search conducted by a woman named Vivienne for her missing husband, Keith. Where the earlier play is a mosaic of connections between seemingly disparate characters across multiple locations, this follow up is notable for its quiet restraint and melancholic humour.
Dougal Lee is compelling as the unnamed man discovered unconscious in the perfect snow of the Pyrenees. He can’t remember anything about his origins or how he ended up in this predicament, though the scallop shell found in his suit pocket suggests he may have been on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. For Anna (Isla Carter), the representative from the British Consulate sent to interview him, the attractive stranger appears to offer an unexpected way out of her loneliness, but when an older woman (Basienka Blake) arrives on the scene, claiming to be the man’s wife, all perceptions about the stranger’s identity, including his own, are turned on their head.
Greig’s play is insightful about the ways in which we try to construct our identities and the sometimes-impregnable gap between our self-perception and the way others see us. None of the characters in the play, from the fragile Anna to the shape-shifting hotel proprietor (Mark Elstob), is quite what they seem, and yet no one can quite shrug off the persistent grip of the past.
The action of John Durnin’s beautifully-controlled production takes place on Frances Collier’s slightly sloping hotel terrace set, which manages to be both familiar and precarious, as though the characters have convened for a moment of reckoning right on the edge of the world. It is the backdrop for a quartet of well-judged performances, with all four actors navigating the mix of humour, tenderness and heartbreak in the script with remarkable deftness.