Menier Chocolate Factory
Pyrenees is the first of five plays by Scottish playwright David Greig reputedly opening in London this year. It is a companion piece (and kind of sequel) to the second, a revival of The Cosmonaut's Last Message ...... which opens at the Donmar in under a fortnight.
This co-production with Glasgow's Tron is also the third play in Paine's Plough's Other England Season and it is worth noting that it follows a man's apocalypse rather than the country's.
Greig is becoming increasingly interested in the nature of identity. His 2003 contribution to the Edinburgh International Festival, San Diego, contained numerous David Greigs searching for themselves and Pyrenees takes on similar subject matter from a different viewpoint.
This play is lyrical, demonstrating the playwright's interest in and love of language. In that way, it is reminiscent of another popular Greig play, Outlying Islands, as is a love triangle that develops between three very different but damaged people.
Hugh Ross plays a man who has lost his memory and thereby takes on a mythical significance. To Jonathan McGuiness, playing the oily proprietor of a Pyrenean hotel, himself a cultural magpie with hilarious views on the geography of sex, this lost soul is a pilgrim.
For Anna, the epileptic representative from the British consulate in Marseilles, he is a puzzle to solve and a potential lover. This naive, young Welsh-born Essex Girl, who has as great a need to discover her own true self, easily empathises. This is well brought out by director Vicky Featherstone using mirrored body language between the pair.
Saddest of all is the man's long-suffering, terminally-ill wife, Vivienne (Paola Dionisotti). When Keith deserted her, she loyally followed him across Europe in a Volvo in order to follow her destiny and be there when he most needed her. Along the way, she suffered dreadfully as he enjoyed a second youth, while she could do nothing but watch and wait.
The first half of Pyrenees is a fascinating reversal of everybody's favourite subject, Identity Theft. This man wants to give away his identity and start afresh, like a child excitedly discovering what the world has to offer, especially when Frances Grey's nubile Anna becomes his target.
After the interval, he is forced to face up to the reality of being an ordinary Scottish Civil Servant in his mid-fifties who needs to grow up. The play also begins to take on a spiritual element at this stage that is not fully explored.
Pyrenees is a combination of love story; and fascinating intellectual conundrum, addressing issues of personal and national identity with a large dash of humour. This brings out fine performances from Miss Featherstone's cast with Hugh Ross wonderfully believable as Keith and Paola Dionisotti, together with the other members, not too far behind.
"Pyrenees" plays until 24th April
Reviewer: Philip Fisher