Salt Mountain – Project Arts Centre – Review by Audrey Devereux
Written By Carmel Winters
Directed by Jo Mangan
An Abbey Theatre Commission for NAYD
At Project Arts Centre, Dublin
24-29 August Tickets €18/22
What is the difference between a fully-fledged professional premiere of a new play and a premiere of a new play written by Carmel Winters staged by the National Youth Theatre? Very little difference actually, bar the ages of the 16–strong cast (who are all aged 16-21), as this dynamic new Irish play shows. Joe Mangan’s innovative direction allows the cast to give their all in this seemingly effortless display of top-class ensemble acting and story telling.
Winters’ story is set somewhere in the ‘Middle East’, a dictatorship has arisen and a village of people like you and me must flee to the mountains to survive, battling the elements and the terrain, the ominous sound of gunfire and bombardment never far off: the story of all too many migrants forced to flee their homes while ‘everything that’s left burns’. The cast perform everything: from singing and playing an original score by Roger Gregg, to the besieged villagers slowly starving during a bitter winter, to grotesquely comedic generals and officials playing with a dead-body-as-puppet as Winters’ play highlights the suffering of normal people under a fanatical will-to-power.
I mused for a moment as to why this piece wasn’t staged at the Abbey and then recognised the immediacy of the versatile black-box space that is the Project, while Mangan’s choice to stage the piece in traverse (with Liam Doona’s inventive set design and Kevin Treacy’s effective lights) lends an intense element to the action making the audience feel they too are part of the pitiful exodus. And pitiful it is, as fear, in-fighting, hunger, despair and the horror of war take their toll on each character, remarkably portrayed in-depth by this superb cast. Hope is almost quenched as several characters gradually succumb to untimely deaths. In fact my one criticism lies here in that the pathos of Winters’ piece is almost unrelenting and felt slightly imbalanced in the overall arc of the storyline.
That said, Salt Mountain is an outstanding piece of theatre by NYT, holding a mirror to war, migration and exploitation, and the tragic reality of, to quote Robert Burns, ‘man’s inhumanity to man’. Go see.
Salt Mountain – Project Arts Centre – 24-29 August Tickets €18/22