Review: Silence, RSC at Hampstead Theatre

“It’s me…I don’t know how to be free”

My continued failure to resist booking plays I don’t really fancy but with members of the RSC Ensemble in the, resulted in this trip to the Hampstead Theatre to see Silence, their collaboration with Filter, a company whose work I haven’t really enjoyed in the three shows of theirs that I have seen. And even the assertion that it was the Ensemble members I was keen to see is stretching it a little (although Katy Stephens and Christine Entwisle were both people I wanted to see again) as it was the opportunity of gazing at Jonjo O’Neill and Oliver Dimsdale onstage that finally won me over: as Monica Geller once said, ‘homina homina’.

At its simplest, Silence follows two main narratives as a married couple pursue different paths: Kate travels to Russia to find Alexei, a man with whom she had a passionate affair more than 20 years ago; and her documentary filmmaker husband Michael with a sound technician colleague is investigating a mysterious Met Police unit whom they suspect of committing misdeeds. But this is a far from simple show as we flow seamlessly between both time and place, some scenes overlapping and even being intercut with one another.

This means that the scope of the play is almost cinematic in its depth and fluidity as Thatcherite oppression is counterpointed with modern-day Russian capitalism and the way in which individuals and mindsets are repressed by both the state and themselves as the very nature of freedom is investigated. Filter’s work is primarily based around their soundscapes though, and so it is here with a dazzling array of technical expertise visibly on display as sounds are created from often unexpected places.

The devised nature of the play does mean that one is left wishing for a little more character development and coherent story-telling as the creativity and ingenuity is channelled elsewhere so that style over substance is the phrase that comes quickest to mind towards the end. That is not to say there aren’t good performances here, indeed there are some excellent ones: Katy Stephens’ tinnitus-plagued Kate makes her dilemma particularly human though I would forgive Oliver Dimsdale’s masculine arrogance in a heartbeat! Ferdy Roberts put up a good fight though as the gloomy Alexei, Christine Enwisle is superb as the waitress who switches between London and Moscow as she moves from one side of the stage to the other and pleasingly Jonjo O’Neill’s sound guy Peter is just excellent although under-used – his scenes with Mariah Gale’s neighbour being my favourite strand.

So a curiosity rather than a must-see: as ever, Filter’s work engages my mind (and senses I suppose) rather than my heart. I seem to never get the sense of vitality that I want from them, of the urgency of their storytelling rather than the process of how they go about it which essentially is their raison d’être so I suspect we’re destined never to really get along. 

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Simon Kane

Booking until 28th May

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