“The sound of a man understanding…something”
The final entry in the final year of the Resident Assistant Director programme which has seen the Donmar Warehouse periodically take over Trafalgar Studios 2 is The Silence of the Sea, directed by Simon Evans. Anthony Weigh has fashioned a new theatrical version of this story which was written pseudonymically by Vercors in 1942 as it spoke of the French resistance to the Nazi occupation. Or rather, it tells of the silence with which a man and woman greet the German officer who is billeted to their small coastal cottage and the challenges faced not only by them but also by the interloper, who is not all at first seems.
The predominance of silence is both illuminating and challenging. Leo Bill’s natural gift of spectacular oration is superbly highlighted as German officer Werner, delivering several lengthy speeches which delve deep into the increasingly troubled psyche of a man not necessarily convinced of the legitimacy of his country’s actions. From the patronising swagger of his arrival to the anguished reflexive defence of his countrymen, he is frequently mesmerising as he tries to fill the awkward void. Intersecting but not interacting with him, Finbar Lynch’s Older Man also gives us his take on the action, a more conversational account of life under Occupation which one which soon ramps up in intensity.
And then there’s Simona Bitmaté’s Young Woman. Near-wordless throughout, her silence and stillness is just as heart-rendingly articulate as the men’s verbosity and maybe even more affecting in what ends up being unsaid. Weigh’s version has a certain poetic quality which frequently ladens the monologues with vivid imagery but ultimately it is Gregory Clarke’s sound design that speaks the loudest from offstage, creating whole worlds of fear and the unknown from which our characters retreat into their silent husks.
Simon Evans’ production may not be the most dramatic and so it may take a little time for audiences to become accustomed to its highly atmospheric mood and introspective nature, but he slowly and assuredly uncoils its rich potential to create a persuasively mysterious yet affecting piece of theatre and suggest a bright future indeed for himself.