Bad decisions – we’ve all made them. Often the worst of them come when we are angry, or sad, when we act with pure emotion and not a thought for the consequences. Never is this more true than when we are young, before life experience teaches us the skills to emotionally diffuse. Phil Ormrod’s new play Isaac Came Home from the Mountain hinges on making decisions in the heat of the moment, how we can so easily take the wrong direction and not realise until it’s too late.
Bobby is a boy without a clear direction in life, but with a fuse of beatings, frustrations and let-downs running through him, just waiting to be lit. Trapped in the “s***hole” of a rural backwater with his neighbourhood cop-dad John, he jumps at an opportunity with Mike and his son Chris at the salvage yard. But it is only when Bobby loses what feels like everything, and would give anything to get it back, that he realises how much he still had left to lose. And is faced with another, terrible choice.
The Isaac of Isaac Came Home from the Mountain, in the biblical sense or indeed in any other is never mentioned, but the biblical proportions of the story are apparent in the context of their lives. This is a story of fathers and sons, of power and weakness, of struggle and sacrifice. These are big enough ideas to wrestle with without getting bogged down in any theology running under the surface of it, but there is plenty to discuss if this if your domain.
With four male leads it is a claustrophobically male environment, with not one woman so much as mentioned in the full 80 minutes. Yet, it has been directed with sharp emotional observation by Carla Kingham. Little details make all the difference in a play as current as this one, and from the way Billy tucks his chin into his hoodie, to the copper cabling at the salvage yard, she’s found them.
The performances are nothing short of thrillingly visceral. The dynamic between the two boys, played by Charles Furness (Bobby) and Kenny Fullwood (Chris) crackles like fireworks. Furness delivers a truly gut-wrenching, heart-in-mouth performance whilst Fullwood zigzags between macho-masculinity and fearful vulnerability with achingly troubled evocation.
Guy Porritt as Officer John Wainwright smoulders with an underlying seething anger and has a devastating ability to express heart-break with just his eyes. Ian Burfield’s performance as Mike boldly treads the line between threat and father figure, but doesn’t have quite the same terrifying quiet-intensity.
The industrial scrapyard setting of Eleanor Bull’s imagining pairs with Benjamin Grant’s industrial-inspired soundtrack, with its scrapes, knocks and bangs. Birdsong intersects, beautifully incongruous, with the scrap metal surroundings. The physical items of scrap that surround them however go largely untouched, an opportunity perhaps missed here to better unify the two. The integrated scaffolding construction nonetheless works well, allowing the boys to work up a sweat or let off some steam, within the confines of Theatre 503.
Despite the wealth of content, Isaac Came Home from the Mountain feels strangely incomplete. The narrative frame of Isaac…hangs on the crux of Bobby’s decision, but the seriousness of the repercussions is insufficiently felt, dealt with or wrapped up and is largely left to hang in the air. It’s although Ormrod has struck a match, let it catch alight, but blown it out before it had a chance to really burn.
But then, it might be a bad decision to find out what happened next.