Pyrenees (2015)

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on PYRENEES at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, for The Scotsman, 21.9.15.
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4 stars ****

FOLLOWING David Greig’s recent appointment as the next artistic director of the Lyceum Theatre, there’s more interest than ever in the various productions of his plays currently playing around the UK. The Events, his 2013 response to the Anders Breivik killings in Norway, is playing in London; and now here, at Pitlochry, comes the first full Scottish revival of Greig’s 2005 play Pyrenees, about a middle-aged man – apparently British, but suffering complete loss of memory – who has come to rest at an inn in the Pyrenees, after being found in the snow nearby, close to the pilgrim’s way to Santiago De Compostela.

The problem with trying to learn more about David Greig from any one show, though, is that his work is so extraordinarily varied, ranging from various kinds of devised work, to the script for the recent West End musical version of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

In Pyrenees, though, we find Greig in the well-made-play mode – Ibsen meets Rattigan, with a dream-like touch of the surreal – that sits so comfortably on Pitlochry’s handsome stage. And as soon as the lights go up on Frances Collier’s gorgeous set – the hotel terrace floating in a translucent blue void, with just a hint of the mighty mountain range nearby – it’s obvious that we’re in for a couple of hours of hugely elegant and satifying drama, as Dougal Lee, as the man, and a boldly gawky Isla Carter, as an unhappy young British consular official called Anna, play their way through the early scenes, falling in love over the tape machine on which she tries to record his oddly unplaceable accent.

There are plenty of neat jokes about class and nationality in Greig’s play, of course; it’s almost immediately obvious to any Scottish audience where Keith – for that is his name – comes from, and what an ambiguous attitude he has to that truth. In true Ibsenesque style, though, there’s also something primal in play, as the other lady guest at the inn – loving wife, or, as Anna suggests “old witch” – gradually closes in on Keith, and tries to reclaim him to the life from which he has fled. Basienka Blake and Dougal Lee act out these final scenes with a sense of inevitability that’s both bleak and shimmering; while Mark Elstob’s baffling hotel proprietor circles around them, changing nationality by the hour, as if to demonstrate that identity is never simple, and always – even for those who can remember their past – an endlesssly moveable feast.

In repertoire at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until 14 October.

ENDS ENDS

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