You Can See The Hills

Published April 28, 2009

Matthew Dunster’s one man coming-of-age drama returns to the Young Vic after its sell-out debut last year, with William Ash reprising the role of confused teenage Adam, attempting to forge his place in the world.

Adam enters the stage and begins by describing the feeling of sitting in a history lesson with the warm sun on your desk and the struggle to keep your eyes open while a monotonous voice from the front of the class lulls you into a hypnotic state. The story, provoking knowing giggles from the audience, is one that feels all too familiar and for the next two hours, Adam regales tales from his teenage years that are universally recognisable – the sick feeling in your stomach the first time you cross the line with your parents, bad teenage kissing (or snogging as Adam would say), the feeling of being part of a group, the naive cruelty inflicted on those who don’t quite fit in, summers that last forever and romances that don’t.

Flitting from one story to the next, as if to prove that men really do think of sex every seven seconds the subject is mentioned almost as frequently. From unsuccessful fumbles with numerous part-time girlfriends to daydreaming in class about Sammy ‘the fittest girl in the year’, seminal moments in Adam’s youth are often punctuated by a female presence, with the consequences of his actions sometimes forcing him to deal with situations way beyond his maturity level.

Adam’s comic anecdotes are interspersed with stories highlighting the more difficult moments of growing up, with poignant observations in some instances bringing audience members to tears. The almost universal experience of losing your first Grandparent is dealt with in a particularly touching way, with Ash’s impressive performance reaching an emotional climax when portraying Adam’s heartbreaking grief.

Set in a photographer’s studio, Ash sits for the entire performance on a green, plastic chair, the only other props on stage a hi-fi, two photographic lamps and a set of nine paintings hung around the auditorium showing the nearby Pennines. The lights are used to show the passing of time, fading when one story ends and illuminating Adam when he begins a new tale. His dialogue, often coarse and peppered with teenage phrases in his strong Oldham accent, frequently repeats the title of the piece, with the paintings then lit up to remind the audience of their constant presence looming over Adam.

Dunster’s drama successfully evokes not only the adolescent confusion of discovering who you are, but also the moment when your horizons widen and the decision of who you will become is placed before you. In Adam’s case, the audience are left to decide whether he will stay behind in his comfortable, familiar existence, or stray beyond the safety of the surrounding hills.