With the promise of a sensational work of otherworldly fantasy, Amy Rhianne Milton’s piece for the Traverse Festival’s Breakfast Plays may set itself on the outer reaches of reality, but at its centre is a deeply pertinent story. On the outskirts of time, as reality crumbles, a cathedral sits as humanity’s final bastion. A citadel looming on the precipice, its stone walls act as the terminal line of defence for humanity from the encroaching darkness. As the bell tolls, it serves as both a beacon of safety and a colossal Matterhorn, inviting those seeking salvation, but also those with ill-intent.
This is a story that builds itself around the encroaching devastation of the UK driving itself inwards from a global presence, as residents turn on one another with no foreign bodies left to blame.
Profoundly poetic, much of Milton’s writing works wonders for an audio drama in the imaginative sense, finding no problems in conjuring a wealth of imagery to create a feast for listeners. The dedication to forming the cathedral and the language involved in crafting a tangible notion of concepts such as light, darkness, chaos and reality is impressive. Unfortunately, as superbly inventive as Milton’s writing is, there are severe issues with the play’s comprehension.
The irony is that for a premise about the end of time, Milton struggles to secure enough to achieve coherency across the production. Too little light is shone on the overcasting shadows surrounding the initial premise, and the introduction of multiple realities muddles any traditional sense of structure. As a result, Matterhorn frequently entangles itself, beginning a thread which soon alters course and becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the story.
Providing some form of coherence are the three performers: Karen Fishwick, Helen Katamba and Laura Lovemore as Freya, Casey and Morrigan. Individually the three serve different narrative roles in each strand of reality that Milton weaves. It enables each to have a spotlight as well as a crescendo moment; but the three alternating realities (acts) are told out of order, and layer on top of one another, and ultimately failing to allow any character growth.
Notably, the more prevalent voice, Karen Fishwick finds a great balance in accentuating her voice for an audio drama without pushing emphasis and sounding hokey. Fishwick captures the essence of Milton’s script the clearest, and direction from Debbie Hannan aids in bringing life to the role.
Katamba breaks away from Fishwick’s poignancy and Lovemore’s more stern performance with a brand of Scottish charm that grounds the production and ties its fantastical elements into a distinct regional experience. With this, of course, is humour which keeps the narrative from becoming too lofty and inaccessible. Where required, however, Katamba also achieves an emotional note, particularly when reacting to Fishwick.
Kim Moore is unafraid to utilise more Gothic horror elements in her sound design, thereby bringing a much needed element of dread to Matterhorn. Ominous groans, bell tones and celestial ripples all have a part to play in carrying the story along and helping to convey time bending to an unfamiliar rhythm.
Matterhorn is a paradox, at only 45 minutes it frustratingly lacks the time to build on the foundations it establishes early on, yet somehow feels longer than its run-time as the audience wraps their heads around the multiple-reality angle. Where Milton’s writing excels is in the visual imagery of a fantastical world; one that reflects rising concerns across both the UK and Scotland. Sadly, the poetic language can’t sugar-coat an often messy script that has too much to say and achieve with very little time to do so cleanly.