High Plains (A Western Myth)

The first few minutes of High Plains was like being cornered after last orders by a sad-eyed drunk intent on regaling me with a digression about his life. Moments later, I was utterly spellbound. This is intense, stripped-back storytelling at its most powerful. A dishevelled man sits alone on stage. He cracks jokes, his eyes dart and you can almost smell the fear on his brow. As he regales you with rambling accounts of his childhood, you notice the details: wounded hands, bloodstained shirt, a bottle of prescription pills on the floor. These pieces fall into place as the disjointed narrative takes shape.

Owing much to urban legends, High Plains combines a well-told tale with grungy realism and sympathetic characterization. A wry tale of sibling tensions and claustrophobia in prairie-town America unfolds into something creepy, intense and truly gripping – a modern-day ghost story which sent literal shivers down my spine. All the hallmarks of a creepy campfire tale are here; the fascination comes from watching them being woven together in a way that is both evocative and unforgettable.

This is genuinely engaging stuff, brilliantly acted. Ben Newman’s rapport with the audience crackles like a high-voltage wire with top-notch timing, holding plenty of power to shock. He elicits laughter with everyman remarks and verbal fumbling, whilst drawing you into a warped world from which there is no going back. Nervy and sympathetic, he dominates a script that could, in the hands of a less capable team, have been a little cheesy. There are instances when the one-sided dialogue verges on the contrived – shades of a drama school monologue, perhaps – but it is hard to fault this production. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to be reminded of the dark long after the lights have come up.

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Performances

The Blurb

‘Gorgeous’ ****(Time Out, New York). Haunted by a cruel childhood secret, a young drifter is crippled by a shocking encounter on the American plains in this critically acclaimed hit play from NYC Fringe.

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