ALTHOUGH it is nearly at the end of its run, Not Talking is worth hunting down. It is a gem of a play written by the talented Mike Bartlett – indeed his very first ‘proper’ play.
Originally successful as a radio play twelve years ago (with Richard Briers and June Whitfield among its cast), it has now been dusted down for the stage. Director James Hillier has done a splendid job, aided by the fine Bartlett and a strong cast.
The play is a four hander and deals with a key issue – as individuals, when should we speak out or just remain silent? Both in matters of the heart and when we see an abhorrent wrong committed? It is tackled across the generations and against the backdrop of war – two wars in fact: the Second World War and the Iraq war. Two stories that jag back and forth in time but ultimately are intimately inter-linked.
There is James (a masterful David Horovitch) and piano playing Lucy (an equally impressive Kikka Markham). An elderly couple, they reflect on their past – meeting as youngsters, losing their first child (Mary) before it was born, and James refusing to go to war on religious grounds (in the process losing some of his friends). Then the first of a number of key revelations – that James had an affair with a woman (Susan) who had a liking for wearing white gloves. An affair that Lucy was aware of and stopped (so she thought) in its tracks by confronting Susan.
Completing the quartet are Mark (Lawrence Walker) and Amanda (Gemma Lawrence). They are both in the army. Mark, loyal to the core and prepared to follow orders to the end. Amanda very much in the minority – surrounded by men who have too much testosterone coursing through them. They are drawn to each other but a terrible crime is then committed against Amanda that Mark sees but keeps quiet about.
The strands between the four lives begin to knit as James finds out about something Lucy discovered 60 years ago but failed to tell him at the time – namely that his relationship with Susan had borne some fruit.
It sets James on a hunt which takes him eventually to Mark – and Amanda. It also triggers actions which result in good and bad consequences – an unveiling of a despicable crime and the ending of a relationship.
This is a splendid production with a set comprising no more than two chairs and a piano – Chopin to the fore. The acting is sublime and there is not a weak link to be found. The fact that the actors who are not speaking either sit at the back of the stage or at the edge in contemplative pose reinforces the play’s overwhelming theme – silence. Tender, thought-provoking theatre.
Silence is not always golden. Secrets have a way of getting out even if they take 60 years to do so.
Not Talking is showing at the Arcola tonight (June 1) and tomorrow (June 2, matinee and evening performances).