Review: Pilgrims, by Elinor Cook, High Tide Festival, Aldeburgh until September 18

Pilgrims by Elinor Cook at the HighTide festival

Pilgrims by Elinor Cook at the HighTide festival - Credit: Archant

Elinor Cook presents an intriguing line of enquiry in this play: In a world that celebrates the concept of adventure in men how can women reclaim the narrative beyond being the prize or the one who waits.

Watching this play, you can tangibly sense theses dilemmas being played out on a raised set that feels like the top of world. Two men, Will (Steffan Donenelly) and Dan (Jack Monaghan) climb mountains for freedom, escape and glory. They are heroes, been in the paper living the dream of doing what men can do. Rachel (Amada Wilkin) meets them both and challenges them : “You just want to stick flags on virgin territory and call it your own”. From this point the lines become blurred.

As the story leaps from past to present, Rachel seeks to reclaim her role in the “love triangle” that emerges. She demands a replay on several occasions. But, this is not Jules and Jim. Rachel may not be a mountaineer, but she is not sexual adventuress either. She watches, observes and laments her role as “anchor” to these men, telling folk tales and placing herself in a long line of female “waiters”. The men never answer her – for they do not wish to relinquish their power.

Rachel’s academic study and knowledge is not a defence when she discovers love is not enough and the sacrifices she makes for love so willingly is a punch in the stomach. I want to stand up and stop this play and talk sense into her. Be her friend. For against this “brotherhood narrative”, she is cast as the “woman who comes between two friends” and she doesn’t seem to stand a chance.

They get the best lines and emotional breakdowns. They get to be undeniably selfish, nurtured, understood. They get their own way. Go back on their word. Rachel now embodies the role she despairs of and still the men are not listening.

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This play is understated and thoughtful. Elinor Cook creates a discourse that feels both realistic and metaphysical. The writing has a lightness and poetic energy that creates urgency for our characters and a structure that subtly challenges nature of narrative itself.

Jackie Montague

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