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Isaac Came Home from the Mountain review at Theatre503, London – ‘engaging and insightful’

Scene from Isaac Came Home from the Mountain at Theatre 503, London. Photo: Helen Murray

Phil Ormrod’s Bruntwood-longlisted Isaac Came Home from the Mountain takes its title from the biblical story of Abraham offering his only son in sacrifice. The link between the book of Genesis and Ormrod’s play is not immediately clear.

John Wainwright (Guy Porritt), a small-town copper, exhibits no willingness to sacrifice his son Bobby (Charles Furness), either in a show of obedience to god or, in the more earthly scenario presented here, to the law. Even Mike Scofield (Ian Burfield), a relentless bully, demonstrates a gruff paternal devotion to his son Chris (Kenny Fullwood) after the boys commit a serious crime.

Perhaps instead the allusion is to the way all the sons of this dilapidated and impoverished corner of rural England are in some form sacrificed (or at least neglected) for the benefit of others – the same theme that rippled through Gary Owen’s superb Iphigenia in Splott.

Ormrod’s study of toxic masculinity, desperation and harassment never quite convinces. Director Carla Kingham’s production is sharply paced, and Eleanor Bull’s set design, a detailed mountain of discarded junk metal, is evocative but the dialogue gets bogged down in parts, with characters voicing their motivations and sentiments.

The play is at its most interesting when the teasing and scuffling between Chris and Bobby is shown to be part of their friendship. These flickers of insight into male behaviour add nuance to a story about the young men left out on the scrap heap.

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