sat 20/12/2014

Making Noise Quietly, Donmar Warehouse | Theatre reviews, news & interviews

Making Noise Quietly, Donmar Warehouse

A triptych of plays confronts the horror of war with delicate skill

The kindness of strangers: Helene (Sara Kestelman) comforts Sam (Lewis Andrews)Johan Persson

“It’s easy for me to talk to you; we don’t know each other”. Robert Holman’s Making Noise Quietly is a work that, like its title, lives in the delicate push-pull of contradiction: intimate strangers; bloodless wars; silent screams. Not one play at all but three short pieces – panels in an inscrutable triptych – its process is oblique, its emotional momentum cumulative, the impact devastating.

The clamour of war may provide the background hum through all three dramas, but this thematic pedal point scarcely anchors the dissonant roamings of Holman’s theatrical melodies. When Holman writes of war he writes of a picnic in a Kentish field or an unexpected visitor at tea-time. Little is linear or direct, and the truths Holman finds are rarely voiced. It is enough that we know they are there, like the treasures eight year-old Sam conceals in his pockets – fragments shored against our ruin.

Leaving the text itself to take care of shared echoes and refrains, Gill chooses to stress the contrasts of the plays

We open in Kent, witnesses to a chance encounter between two young men during World War II. Both exempt from military service, they talk about sex, sexuality and the ethics of warfare. The central panel finds us in the front-room of a working-class home in Redcar during the 1980s, as a stranger tells a mother of the death (and life) of her estranged son. Finally the scene shifts to the Black Forest in the same decade. A troubled boy and his soldier stepfather find themselves in a the home of a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor, their relationship under scrutiny and negotiation.

First staged in 1986, the Falkands War still fresh in collective memory, this meditation on the fragility of human psychology feels equally potent when refracted off our more recent history in Afghanistan and Iraq. Peter Gill’s new production (with designs by Paul Wills) situates his three panels with the merest of visual markers – a bicycle, a chintz armchair, a tree trunk – blurring episode smoothly into episode. Transitions here (as in Gill’s recent production of A Provincial Life for National Theatre Wales) take on unusual significance, flooding the stage with actors so that each fragile two-hander emerges from the crowd, one potential story among many.

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