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How To Climb Mount Everest
Published on Wednesday, 13 July 2011

3 stars

Underground Venues - Pauper's Pit
8, 12, 15 Jul, 4:45pm-5:45pm; 13 Jul, 10:30pm-11:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

If you want to climb Mount Everest, this play would have you believe, the formula's quite simple: train hard, learn to believe in yourself, and ultimately determination will see you through. In real life, of course, it's not so straightforward, but we can still all draw inspiration from this gently comedic parable – of a man who loses his humdrum job for breaking the photocopier, and sets out to change his life by scaling the highest peak of all.

Sam Gibbs is commendable as the put-upon office worker, effortlessly capturing the full depth of human emotion with a single glance of his expressive eyes. Nusret Ozguc is no less impressive as his guide and mentor – a vintage-clad guru who first seems to be on a summit of his own but, inevitably, proves to have a vulnerable side. I particularly admired the decision to have the guru speak in an unintelligible language (my apologies if it's a real language I simply don't know); it conveyed just the right sense of unattainable other-worldliness, and made this enigmatic expert all the more intriguing and aloof.

There's plenty of understated comedy throughout. I could have lived without the quite literal toilet humour which kicks the whole thing off, but the racier of the later physical gags are creative enough to override my inner censor. Miming out most of their scenes and props, and performing their own sound effects, the two men build up an admirable pace when the script is on their side. But the more static scenes, regrettably, didn't work so well: though crammed with gentle humour, they tended to outstay their welcome and leave me impatient for the plot to move on.

I could also have lived without the rather complicated play-outside-a-play – which occasionally sees the two actors step out of character, to explore their own (fractious) relationship and discuss the progress of their work. To be honest, I'd quite forgotten their over-arching mission to solve the "equation of life" until they returned to it at the end, and too much of this material was just an unwelcome interruption to our two heroes' narrative. If the actors are going to play "themselves" as well as their characters, they need to do so more subtly and more consistently. It works well, for instance, in one of the funniest scenes, where one ruins the other's big monologue by building a truly dreadful model of Everest out of a bed sheet.

It's a good joke, but I fear it hints at a real problem. The world's mightiest mountain is a bit too much for this play; it's too big for the stage, and too incredible for the plot. The whole thing would fundamentally still work if, say, they'd just gone up Kinder Scout, and a more realistic setting would lend the play a kind of grounded honesty. Still, I'm powerless in the face of a soppy redemptive ending, and this script has two of them – so, for all it sometimes slogged in the foothills, ultimately it did scale the heights for me.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.