A modern love story crashes in front of us, or so we are led to believe. Rob is tackled to the ground at a train station by vivacious Ellie. They meet and already Rob is taken aback by Ellie’s character. She’s intense and consistently talks over Rob in excitement and energy, believing that she had just saved his life. It is when a bombarded Rob reveals that he considered jumping in front of the train before Ellie’s interaction that their relationship really starts. And from the very beginning, we see the red signals.
In The Shadow of the Mountain is a play by Felicity Huxley-Miners about the struggles of mental health and how such struggles can impact a relationship. Huxley-Miners portrays Ellie and there’s a layer to the character that suggests Ellie is a little more aware of her condition and ‘ways’ than she’s leading on. Even though it is not revealed in the play, in show descriptions and past interviews, Huxley-Miners has outlined Ellie as having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Ellie can be seen manipulating Rob to stay with her and struggling to pinpoint her frustrations and confusions that she elevates any situation within seconds.
BPD is an extremely stigmatised condition in which somebody can struggle to emotionally deal with aspects of life and stress. It is a tornado of thoughts and confusions that lead to reckless impulsive behaviour, mood swings and more.
Rob is the much more calming and straight-thinking of the two. After his best friend takes his now ex-girlfriend away from him, he is vulnerable and Ellie can be seen as taking advantage of that. You can tell he is a nice guy and genuinely cares for Ellie, even from the short (though intense) time they spend together. However, you know the two are wrong for each other completely.
The play pretty much stays at one speed throughout – as a struggle from Ellie trying to cling on to her new partner but it does not necessarily depict all of what BPD is. The energy from somebody living with BPD can be equally low as it is high and this play focuses on the latter. By keeping the scenes highly-strung and creating an anxious atmosphere, the audience commonly circle around the thoughts of “What will Ellie or do next?” or “Why doesn’t Rob clearly see through this?” and the characters end up repeating themselves. It’s slightly exhausting to watch. The audience can find them irritating rather than trying to empathise and understand. And when the play comes to its dilemma near the end, we aren’t as invested anymore.
I do also believe the show missed a trick in not naming BPD near the end of the script. Being one of the most stigmatised disorders, to have named it and to have explained it in the play’s conclusion could have given us a more well-rounded and deserved ending.
Our two leads are interesting to watch and both have moments in the show that are worth remembering. Director Richard Elson provides a satisfying production but this show needs to explore more aspects and dig a little deeper into the world of BPD. It lacks a little refinement but this production is able to bring the discussion of mental health to the front, and we are all still desperately in need of that.
Review by Elliott Jordan
Rob stands on the edge of oblivion just as the chaotic Ellie careers into his life. They desperately need each other but is Ellie, who’s struggling with her own Borderline Personality Disorder, really the best person to try and help? Sometimes you can only save one person. And it’s okay if that person is you. This touching, funny story explores a relationship born in the throes of a mental health crisis as a couple struggles to find their place in the world.
This new play by Felicity Huxley-Miners in a co-production by Quantum Frolic Theatre and Instinct Theatre, and has been selected for the Who Runs the World? season celebrating female playwrights at The King’s Head Theatre, after which it will transfer to the Old Red Lion for a three-week run.
April 24th – 29th, King’s Head Theatre
May 15th – June 2nd, Old Red Lion