Making a mountain into a molehill: Mountain Giants at the O’Reilly

Julia Hartley’s production of Pirandello’s The Mountain Giants is a play of two halves. ‘Dark’ was the word for the first half – both in the metaphorical and in the visual sense – the play’s sinister magic realism was quite haunting but it was difficult to see the action.  The staging was confusing, badly blocked and the action was carried along almost entirely by Sam Young’s phenomenal performance as Cotrone, the magician.

Hartley’s commendable translation was undermined by the production’s amateur technical feats. The set, which, at first, appeared to be charmingly juvenile in its conception – unashamed meta-theatre – soon started to grate when it became apparent that, save for the odd entrance/exit and a bench, there was nothing to the stage but a large awkwardly spaced-out cast. The jarring Matija Vlatkovic’s talcum-powdered hair (presumably done to indicate age) actually just distracted: his suit was comically whitened, and a cloud emerged when he was struck.  Ben Currie’s excellent acting was undermined by the fact that, in order to play a dwarf, he was on his knees with shoes attached to them.  Hardly a feat of technical genius, this directorial decision was more akin to the game that an ignorant child plays, trying to impress their schoolmates.

The production was not entirely without merit.  The Lady Macbeth-esque countess, played by Catherine Haines, was a joy to behold, and her relationship with Moritz Borrman provided a rare tender moment amidst the brash production.

The second half was certainly better than the first.  Far more visually appealing and much easier to follow, the impression was given that the actors actually understood what they were saying – something that was not evident in the beginning.  Most obviously, the staging was drastically improved and the quartet playing puppets were wonderful.  Though the final act (written in by Hartley) was disjointed and incongruous, the character relationships were at least more thoroughly developed.   In the words of the magician, “the lead characters create a problem; what is important is the magic”, and, in this tacked-on ending, the play was taken from a plain of delight and intrigue to an uncomfortable environment in which the cast were vying for cheap laughs.

Although, as a production, The Mountain Giants is not particularly laudable, it is redeemed by small flourishes such as the puppets, the more developed relationships, and the witty aphorisms of the magician.  Unfortunately, for all the countess’s demands that “even for a good review in a filthy paper, you’d have me sell myself”, it seems that, in this production, she is only selling herself short.

** (2 stars)
The Mountain Giants plays at The O’Reilly Theatre until Saturday.

PICTURE/ Andy Hartley
PHOTO/ Masha Gindler