Scaling different heights [by Matt Baker]
It’s easy to forget that the 1953 British Mount Everest expedition consisted of 13 men other than Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. With an equally warranted respect amongst the expedition members, and without the chance of generating jingoistic reprisal, playwright Gareth Davies offers us the narrative voices of expedition leader Sir John Hunt and schoolmaster George Lowe in the untold story all New Zealander’s should know.
Davies clearly has master knowledge on the play’s subject matter, with minute detail weaved into the overall plot. This is articulated further with Stephen Lovatt’s performance as Hunt, with a slight British smarm and reverence that ingratiates him with his audience, as he brings the events to life with an honest and infectious enthusiasm. While there may not be the same level of interest in the content for each member of the audience, this enthusiasm, under the direction of Toby Leech, successfully avoids any monotony in its rhythm.
The play has been accurately described as “part climbing experience, part history lesson, and part personal revelation,” however, the latter comes very late in the piece. While the inclusion of George Lowe is a logical one, his necessity is questionable. Jonny Brugh serves his purpose well in regards to sharing the narrative load and inserting the odd quip into Lovatt’s monologues, however, while the aforementioned revelation is important for both Hunt and Lowe, and reinforces the two key points Davies makes with the play – that it was a team achievement and there was a second Kiwi on the team, it is the only moment of drama that exists in an otherwise particularly presented play, and is dismissed with a Kiwi irreverence almost as quickly as it was brought up.
Leech has mentioned the team’s interest in engaging kids, and I wholeheartedly support such an expedition. The show has all the potential for both a school and public national tour, with the ability to be performed in any theatre or community hall. Lowe’s photos have already proved their public interest, and even without Jennifer Lal’s nostalgic blue ice South Col lighting, Davies’ script is an excellent supplement. I have seen and heard myriad university lectures over the years, and Everest Untold has all the components of success when it comes to (re)educating New Zealander’s on one of our greatest triumphs in a genuinely entertaining way; a story that resonates in the psyche of its audience, with the ability to not only convey the necessary information, but present it with the simple humanity of the men involved.
Everest Untold is presented by Ffynroc Productions and plays at the Q Loft until September 27. For details see Q.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview review by Kate Ward-Smythe