JThe location is perfect. If on a clear day you stand just beyond the theater by the entrance to the lake and let your eyes wander southwest, across Derwentwater, into the distant blue, you might catch a glimpse of the highest peak of England, Scafell Pike. Charlie, one of the title’s namesake climbers, was taken to Scafell on a school trip when he was 16. “At the top…it had never felt so alive,” according to Tshering, the guide hired some 20 years later by Charlie and his partner, Yasmin, to take them up Everest. Only Yasmin and Tshering return.
Carmen Nasr’s disappointing new play promises mystery and suspense but falls short. It’s based on familiar docudrama dilemmas Touching the Void: how to react when it seems that a member of a team might not return to base camp; Which of the survivors’ two versions of events is true? Connie, a private detective hired by Charlie’s grieving mother, travels to Nepal to confront Yasmin and Tshering. The problem, as Tshering puts it, is that in Everest’s death zone, littered with corpses and haunted by ghosts, “time and space vanish. It may be impossible to remember what is happening.
It can also be impossible to care, as rambling scenes revolve around the past, present, and future, devoid of tension. The rhythm of production of Guy Jones, sometimes icy, lacks dramatic dynamism. The actors do their best with thinner-than-air characters at high altitudes, but only Shenagh Govan, as Charlie’s mother, manages to convey a sense of inner life.
On a positive note, the production provides an exciting opening. Huge white sheets arranged in triangles suggest a snow-covered mountain range bathed in light (Max Johns, design; Jess Bernberg, lights). Echoing sound and music (Alexandra Faye Braithwaite) whistles strange winds. A rope descends from the flies; Yasmin goes down; stops to look; the rope winds and coils; she clings… blackout! Unfortunately, it peaks too soon; it’s downhill from now on.
The climbers is at the Theater by the Lake, Keswick, until July 16