You Can See The Hills @ Young Vic, London

performed by

William Ash

written and directed by
Matthew Dunster
For the first half hour or so of You Can See The Hills a monologue about growing up in Oldham by Young Vic Associate Director Matthew Dunster, it feels as if he’s steering his audience down a well-worn road.

His play is peppered with wanking anecdotes, awkward bedroom fumbles and references to Tomorrow’s World on the telly and ‘chippy teas’. It’s an amble down nostalgia avenue: funny, yes, and rather filthy with it, but also incredibly familiar. We’ve been here before, many times. However, as the play progresses, it reveals greater depths than one might have initially anticipated.

Through the eyes of Adam, Dunster acutely recalls the cruelties of the schoolroom. Two incidents in partucular, described in detail, draw gasps from the audience: the vicious school-bus taunting of a boy suspected to be gay and the assault of a rather simple girl by an older boy who pretends to fancy her only to pin her to the ground and grope her, watched and encouraged by a large group of his classmates. They’re described in such a way that a hundred similar, long suppressed horrors leap from neglected corners of the memory; the fears and anxieties and desires of being a teenager.

Dunster (who recently directed the Globe’s lively production of Che Walker’s The Frontline) is also skilled at capturing the rages and frustrations of adolescence. An incident with an unwanted dinner of liver and bacon explodes into Adam shouting and swearing and calling his mother a bitch and having no real understanding of why he is feeling as he is feeling and doing what he is doing.

The play is very simply staged in the Young Vic’s intimate Clare studio. There are two spotlights and an orange plastic chair and images of hills on the wall. Adam is played by William Ash in an easy, amiable fashion; it’s not flashy acting but he controls this rather lengthy monologue with considerable skill. There is a touch of nudge-nudge-wink-wink when he’s describing fit birds with great tits (which is often) but he is also able to subtly shift things, successfully negotiating the play’s emotional hurdles.

The play, episodic in structure, is, at nearly two and a half hours, rather on the long side, but this provides room for Adam to grow from a teenager with a healthy sexual appetite to a six-former contemplating a life beyond school (and maybe beyond Oldham). His world is slowly expanding, opening him to new experiences, new emotions; friends who once meant so much have drifted away, been forgotten, or, in one case, become the local junkie.

The women in Dunster’s play, Adam’s mother and various girlfriends, don’t really ever take shape in quite the same way as the male characters, like the disabled granddad or the father who’s birds-and-bees pep talk consists only of one piece of advice: use something. (Advice that goes unheeded). As with many monologues there’s little about this that is essentially theatrical and it could have worked just as successfully on radio though Ash, when describing another of Adam’s bedroom encounters, manages to whip the audience into a frenzy of giggles. You Can See The Hills is more polished and potent than it first appears and, despite my initial misgivings, by the end I was rapt, totally caught up in this boy’s life.

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