One of four shows comprising the Directors’ Festival of new graduates from St Mary’s University in Twickenham, Elinor Cook’s three-hander proves to be a complex, mystical and rather muddled piece about relationships, machismo, and the meaning of life.
Rachel sets the scene, as Dan and Will are stranded up on a mountain in extreme cold, lost. They are expetienced adventurers, friends from childhood, and both in love with her, although the disjointed flashback structure shows that they have both taken her for granted.
An academic whose enthusiasm stretches from the folk-song tradition to the Romantic poets, Rachel sets her heart on a lucrative tenure in Boston just as much as the boy “superhero conquerors” want the impossible in the wilds of Peru.
Ellie Goodall catches the setting and sense of the piece, adapting the small stage area and props – boxes, pieces of wood, books – to evoke snatches of time and memory one can perhaps assume are filtered through the mind of the dying mountaineer.
Scene changes lead to snatches of songs as the actors busy themselves in place-setting, and the melodies are as mystical as the stories of Tam Lin or the legend of St Christopher.
Adeyinka Akinrinade is the girl on the periphery of the action, the catalyst for the final breakout. Although the sound design of whistling winds made it hard to decipher her opening speech, she blossoms into a tower of strength, as alluring as a mermaid but as immovable as the mountains.
Nicholas Armfield, as whiny yet confident Welshman Will, and Luke MacGregor, as geeky yet petulant Dan, evoke both little boys lost and the toxic masculinity too many pints can bring.
Pilgrims is an intriguing play, but it leaves the audience a tad confused and unsettled. Cook’s language is both poetic and earthy, but I felt the characters didn’t quite come through with enough clarity.
Pilgrims ran as part of the Directors’ Festival 2019 at the Orange Tree Theatre from 3-11 August.