Pack the Kendal mint cake, strap up your crampons, you’re in for the climb of your life. Interactive theatre company non zero one want to talk about their audience’s own personal ascent: where they’ve been, where they’re going and whether they’ve taken the path or reached the heights that they planned when their expedition began.
Despite the personal survival pack we’re given when we enter the room, ‘Mountaineering’ is framed more like a car journey than an alpine assault. The opening 20 minutes feel like a lush and woozy trip up an anonymous motorway at night, as the voice of a graveyard shift DJ urges us to cast our minds back into the past.
Headphones on, locked in our own world of reminiscence, at first ‘Mountaineering’ almost feels like a time machine. Interviews with the very old and the very young reflect on ambitions for the future and the strange forks life throws in the road, against a wall of projections and James Bulley’s shivery electronic soundtrack.
But it’s a long climb, and somewhere around the halfway mark everything comes unstuck. As we munch on packets of crisps and watch fellow audience members gently interrogated about their perfect satisfaction with their perfectly satisfactory lives, it begins to resemble a middle-class episode of ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’. The smugness is suffocating, the lack of perspective cringe-worthy.
You’re left waiting for a rug pull that never comes, unless it’s your own frustration at being gulled into unearned self-pity or navel-gazing. There’s technical skill and a deft hand at emotional manipulation holding the ropes, but in the end it feels so vain and self-serving that you almost regret the climb.