Review: The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre

Ruth Wilson and Ivo van Hove reunite for The Human Voice, a striking monologue that is bound to be divisive

“This phone is the last thing that still connects us”

In some ways, The Human Voice is an obvious choice. A short run of a monologue which allows Ruth Wilson to reunite with director Ivo van Hove after their acclaimed Hedda Gabler in a mighty showcase. In others though, it is a little perplexing. Jean Cocteau’s phone-based play dates back to 1930 and van Hove’s production, although tinkered with here, was created in 2009 so there’s admittedly little freshness in the air.

We’re witnessing the dying embers of a broken relationship. Wilson’s nameless woman is having a final phone call with her former lover (who remains unseen and unheard), knowing full well that if and when he hangs up it will truly be over as he’s about to get married to someone else. And for just over an hour, she runs the full gamut of desperate emotion, from dancing to vomiting, unable to reconcile with the truth that he just doesn’t love her any more.

There are moments that are electric. Strong music choices disrupt conventional notions of how they might be used, minutes-long stasis likewise challenges us and the sheer intensity of Wilson’s volatile anguish is viscerally felt at times. But if you don’t subscribe to van Hove’s directorial bag of tricks, this could stretch the patience, particularly as Jan Versweyveld’s sterile glass-fronted box design sits uneasily in this large West End space. 

And you could look askance at the play itself a little. Hearts may break the same way as 90 years ago but the concept of a woman’s world collapsing so finally doesn’t quite fly so well. And given the huge advances in the way we communicate today, the conceit of the phone call, complete with crossed lines as per the 1930’s Parisian telephone exchanges, can’t help but feel dated. The play feels stronger in the moments when it suggests that there might not actually be anyone on the other end. I dug it, but this is bound to be divisive. 

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
The Human Voice is booking at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 9th April

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