Mallory: Beyond Everest

Lie motionless in the centre of railway tracks, they say, and a passing train will leave you untouched. In John Burns’s one-man show, Mallory: Beyond Everest, we meet a man who has to know. To represent the incident Burns chalks a pair of rails on a blackboard and stands before it, rigid. “Steel and flesh,” he chants. “Steel and flesh. Steel and flesh!” Afterwards, when the fear has left him, he feels “a kind of wonder.”

Mallory: Beyond Everest is a fine show — and a worthy tribute to one of the heroes of mountaineering.

He is of course George Mallory, the legendary English mountaineer who disappeared during the 1924 Everest expedition. Though his body was discovered in 1999, whether he reached the summit before his death — 29 years before Tenzing and Hillary completed their ascent — remains a subject of intense dispute. Mallory: Beyond Everest imagines a world in which the climber successfully ascends, and survives, the tallest mountain in the world.

A BBC interview with an aged Mallory forms the play’s scaffolding, and occasions some interesting retrospection. “In the end the mountain had to be climbed,” he says, in the way people have of making out the past to have been inevitable. Fact may be the real substructure of the play, though, in the testimonies that outlived Mallory. Dates and times prefacing descriptions of the War surely refer to fragments from his diary, and the script seems to slip into quotation at other moments. Indeed, the difficulty of differentiating fiction from fact enriches the play with many fertile ambiguities. Mustard gas smells of lilac, Mallory tells us, and acts out gas-blinded men stumbling on the front, their hands on each others’ shoulders. That his wife smells of lilacs on his return is a detail so vivid and particular as to be utterly authentic. But what about hints of homoeroticism in his relationship with Geoffrey Young, who mentors him in climbing, and Sandy Irvine, with whom he makes the fateful Everest attempt? Real or invented, the subtlety of these suggestions is a credit to Burns’ writing and typical of the finely-tuned play.

When asked why he wanted to climb Everest, Mallory famously replied: “Because it’s there.” In the play, Burns makes this irate comment to a journalist in America, a country which England’s ‘Everest fever’ seems to have passed by. Is this based in fact? Certainly the phrase is stripped of its pop-culture crusting and granted renewed reality thereby. The railway episode, too, is viscerally effective, and its purpose — to establish Mallory’s attraction to danger, even before he has ever climbed — is clear. Less successful are excerpts from Moby Dick, delivered above mournful bagpipes. The parallel with Ahab’s struggle is both heavy-handed and inexact: Burns’s Mallory, after all, survives. And doesn’t our knowledge of this from the beginning detract from the lengthy process of his recruitment to the expedition, or render inconsequential his wife’s protests?

The true story, I mean to suggest, may be the more powerful. But perhaps the difficulties of presenting that tale in this format would prove insurmountable. Mallory: Beyond Everest is a fine show — and a worthy tribute to one of the heroes of mountaineering.

Reviews by Aron Penczu

C venues - C nova

Bazaar and Rummage

Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters


Heroes @ Bob & Miss Behave's Bookshop

IndieRound (Fool Members Club) with Bob Slayer & Tim Fitzhigham

theSpace @ Symposium Hall

The Unholy Trinity

C venues - C too

Story Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

theSpace @ Jury's Inn

The Sorrows of Young Werther


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now



The Blurb

Mallory and his climbing partner, Sandy Irvine, vanished into the mist high on Everest in 1924. They carried with them the hopes of a nation ravaged by World War One. But what if Mallory had survived Everest, what demons would have haunted him? This one-man play, uses a combination of physical theatre, projection and specially composed music to explore the nature of obsession, and looks at what drives a man to sacrifice himself and those he loves for a symbolic goal. Comedy and tragedy combine to create a piece that is both moving, funny, and controversial.

Most Popular See More


From £29.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Come From Away

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Pretty Woman: The Musical

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Life of Pi

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets