Review – The Mountaintop, Trafalgar Studios

Wednesday 5 August 2009

mountaintop_poster_1680How apt that Theatre 503‘s production of Katori Hall‘s play should get its West End re-staging at the Trafalgar Studios. From the Whingers’ vertiginous perches in Row K of the perilously raked Trafalgar auditorium their view was one that may as well have been from mountaintop.

Phil’s frustration was only exacerbated by the fact that in seat K3 he was just one seat away from being able to boast about having seen the The Mountaintop from the absurdly appropriate K2. As it was he had to content himself with the choice of an ERP software provider, a Flemish girl group or a wind/solar powered charging device, none of which readily lent themselves to a hook on which to hang the review .

It was also VERY hot in the auditorium and two glasses of red wine had already set the Whingers back £11.20, The Mountaintop being a laudable 80 minutes straight through.

So given all the whinging about the temperature, the bar prices and wishing they were closer to this intimate two-hander, it’s a testament to director James Dacre‘s production that he kept the Whingers thoroughly entertained.

It’s April 1968 and we are in a seedy Memphis Motel room (designer Libby Watson) that would sit comfortably in any David Lynch film. Martin Luther King has just delivered his famous (and last) speech “I’ve been to the mountaintop” and he wants room service.

Enter enigmatic motel maid Camae (Lorraine Burroughs). It’s her first day on the job, and she’s in awe of the person she’s serving. Or is she? But to give any more of the plot away would be unfair. The press have remained admirably but  unusually reticent about the twist.

But Phil had guessed it – not because he’s especially bright, you understand, but after the show by re-reading Time Out’s (for once) accurate review (which awards five stars(out of six)) by Tamara Gausi he realised how he’d worked it out. Don’t read her review if you want to be surprised.

David Harewood‘s King is terrific even if his vocal impersonation makes it hard to hear what he’s saying in the earlier moments of the play, or at least from Row K (though be fair this wasn’t helped by the noise of the Trafalgar Studio’s creaking seats. Could the Trafalgar be the new Old Vic?). He’s more than matched by Burroughs who’s on-stage charisma suggests a star in the making.

It’s a riveting 80 minutes: thought-provoking, dramatic, funny (“My daddy smoked Pall Malls; said Kools’ll kill you”) made all the more compelling by Harewood and Burroughs whose performances are utterly convincing. Top marks to for the arresting and clever graphics on the poster (see top right). Even the final line from the multimedia finale delivers a delicious tingle (unless, like Phil, you miss it because you are too busy trying to work your seat number up into a gag).

David Harewood and Lorraine Burroughs in The Mountaintop


Spoiler ahead. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the play.

Phil’s peculiar mind saw a strange parallel with Sunday’s similarly vertiginous visit to Call Me Madam (50’s America) which had the titular madam making frequent phone calls to Harry S. Truman. The Mountaintop (60’s America) has the characters chatting on the phone to another very highly placed person.


10 Responses to “Review – The Mountaintop, Trafalgar Studios”

  1. webcowgirl Says:

    Glad you guys enjoyed it. In terms of bang for the buck (both cost and time) this has got to be one of the best choices for the summer. I walked out breathless!

  2. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    Oh, it’s just me, then, is it…?

  3. Natasha Says:

    No, it’s me too.

    I agree that Harewood is excellent, but I simply wasn’t willing to go where the play wanted me to go.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      After the devil came on stage in Don Giovanni to drag him to hell (making me burst out laughing during what was doubtfully a piteous aria), I’ve found I’m a lot more willing to accept, shall we say, the use of a “deus ex machina” even in modern shows.

    • a Memphis native Says:

      I feel sorry for you…

  4. Mary Says:

    I can’t wait to see it. I’ve booked for the night of the free Q&A with the cast on 11 August. Only cost me £25 for TWO tickets on Amazing.

  5. Oh you can get them much cheaper than that, Mary. Be careful how you gush or people may conclude that you are somehow connected with somerfield or whatever it’s called.

  6. Ben Says:

    Well, you are all paying for me through taxes the ‘A Night Less Ordinary’ scheme so I can get my ticket for free. Thank you very much.

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