Pros: Technically well executed; the direction and lighting are very good and the stage is modest but beautifully designed.
Cons: Reinforces stereotypes about Borderline Personality Disorder as a condition suffered exclusively by needy and unstable women.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is not a funny business. The NHS describes it as a mental health problem characterised by emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking or perception, impulsive behaviour and intense but unstable relationships with others. Its causes to this day are unclear, but researchers widely agree that it’s originated by a combination of genetic factors and stressful or traumatic life events. This mood disorder can affect people from all backgrounds and sexes, and although more women have been diagnosed with it than men, according to a couple of studies men are as likely as women to develop BPD in the UK. Nevertheless you will often hear people characterising a woman as “borderline” – never so the “borderline” man.
In the Shadow of the Mountain could be another happy story of boy meets girl, if it wasn’t for the fact that the girl comes with a heavy load of emotional baggage and BPD. After experiencing a shocking relationship betrayal, Rob (David Shears) goes through a tough time. He is haunted by dark thoughts while standing on a train platform. To his (mis)fortune, Ellie (Felicity Huxley-Miners) tackles him to the ground, thus avoiding what she thought would be a dramatic suicidal move.
Although Rob is initially horrified by Ellie’s verbal diarrhoea and eccentric behaviour, surprisingly or not they end up sleeping together shortly afterwards. Then begins a very unstable and intense relationship in which Ellie moves full speed ahead towards their shared future whilst an always patient Rob deals as he can with the whole situation. Things go from bad to worse as Ellie’s behaviour becomes increasingly dangerous.
Ten minutes into the play one can’t help but feel intense annoyance towards Ellie. Her emotional instability and manipulative nature inspire little sympathy, let alone because there’s no actual mention of what’s going on in her mind until the end of the play, when it’s already too late for redemption. Leaving aside some cryptic references to her family, there’s not much background to provide context or explanation for her conduct. This leads us to think that Ellie’s personality disorder is purely genetic – a random product of nature affecting yet another female. She’s portrayed as a purely hysterical woman, putting aside any potential external factors – such as sexism and the daily abuse of women in society (to name a few) – that could have contributed to the development of her mental health condition.
Any sympathy in the play is reserved exclusively for the character of Rob, portrayed as a painfully patient and loyal martyr to this woman who crossed his path uninvited. Not only that, he is her saviour. I can hear someone thinking “oh these poor men who have to suffer these crazy b******…” It wouldn’t surprise me if many, if not most, of the women in the audience left the play thinking that they have BPD. Or even worse their male companions, spotting some familiarities, left thinking that all women are emotionally unstable and therefore suffer from a mental health problem. A good effort on the technical and production side, but on the subject of BPD this really missed the mark for me.
Author: Felicity Huxley-Miners
Director: Richard Elson
Producer: Instinct Theatre & Quantum Frolic Theatre
Booking Until: 2 June 2018
Box Office: 0333 012 4963
Booking Link: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/in-the-shadow-of-the-mountain.html