Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Five people. A tiny mountain bothy - that's cabin to those who aren't collecting Munros. A marriage on the rocks. A naïve photographer, a hardened climber, and an ex-cult member on a mission.
The Nest, by Alan Wilkins, features a highly eclectic assortment of characters and situations. It begins with Colin (Matthew Pidgeon) and Helen (Candida Benson), married for nine years and "bagging Munros" (climbing the 284 hills of the highlands that are over three thousand feet) for five in the hopes of wiping away past indiscretions. They're nearing the top of Sgurr Mor, the last peak on their list, and it's instantly apparent that they're probably nearing the end of their marriage as well.
Colin and Helen are soon joined by Jackie (Clare Yuille) and Mac (Lewis Howden), a greenhorn photographer and a seasoned climber respectively, and then Innes (Finlay Welsh) returns (though where he's been, other than "out," and how he managed to carry both the pack in the bothy as well as the pack on his back when by the end of the play he's too ill to move is never made quite clear).
The play flirts with becoming a psychological thriller, but declines to go down that road; instead the focus turns to the characters' love for the hills (sometimes to the point of losing the audience in jargon or place-names that may not be familiar to non-climbers). Much is made of the danger one can encounter while bagging Munros, but when one character leaves for the shops (even though it takes him nearly ten hours) and pops back with food, whisky, and weed, it makes it harder for the idea of their isolation to really sink in.
As Helen, Benson probably has one of the more difficult roles to play. Both her anger and her betrayal of Colin's trust are too raw, and too unsupported by Colin's genility, for the audience to sympathize with her. She comes across as oversensitive and shrill, while Pidgeon makes Colin's pain so palatable that it's impossible to condemn Colin for his infidelity.
There are hitches in the text which don't quite make sense, such as a mention of Christian Burial for one character's mentor being "the last thing she wanted," which then clashes with later mentions of "Old Testament sermonising"; upon looking at the script it seems these changes might have been made during the production process. A word here or there may seem like a small thing, but overall it does make a difference, especially given the beautiful, almost poetic turns of phrase which occasionally pop up in Wilkins' script.
A tendency on the part of some of the actors to keep their backs to the audience during moments of tension (especially on the parts of Benson and Howden) suggest that director Lorne Campbell, for whom The Nest is his first time directing at the Traverse, may still need to get used to directing in the difficult space of the Traverse 2 theatre.
Since the entire play is set in the Sgurr Mor bothy, the set construction is obviously critical to the production, and the tilted, out-of-kilter, all-wood design by Andrew Burt certainly captures the rickety feeling of camping in a basic forest cabin.
The Nest will by playing at the Traverse from 16th April to 2nd May before setting out on a tour of the highlands, where it is sure to find an interested and sympathetic audience.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody