Felicity Huxley-Miners’s ‘mental health romance’ In the Shadow of the Mountain is an energetic but unpersuasive exploration of love in the time of anxiety.
Dour Rob (David Shears) is at a train station, considering ending his life, until Ellie (played by Huxley-Miners) rugby tackles him to the ground, intuiting his intention. Ellie talks Rob into coming home with her, and the rest of the play takes place in her flat, minimally delineated by designer Emily Megson, with white drawings of shelves on the walls, a black garden bench, and a single camp bed.
What follows is an excessive portrayal of a manipulative woman, holding a man hostage using a combination of sex, pleading and emotional abuse. Huxley-Miners tries to present Ellie at her worst so that, from her nadir, she may rise and offer hope, but the tricks she employs, the frenetic escalation of the relationship, the unbelievable time-frame of three weeks, and the blankness of Rob’s character combine to render the play a strangely vituperative attack on Ellie – all the more so because Ellie’s fizzing characterisation is very convincing.
Huxley-Miners is an excitingly dynamic performer; Shears fares rather less well, his face repeatedly wiping itself blank to fill with the next emotion, but that’s in large part because Rob is a nonentity, a cipher of beta masculinity, who exists solely to react to Ellie’s rages.
In fact the play seems to hate Ellie, the very character it is working to portray sympathetically, and it takes a lot of empathetic digging on the part of the audience to get close to feeling sympathy for her.