Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Drowning but waving... Not Talking, Arcola Theatre

“If I don’t want to tell anyone, it’s up to me, right?”

This is a play where dialogue and narrative runs cross-cross between four characters through time and space. It’s a four-player exercise in setting up divergent paths to the same conclusion and, as such, engages audience hearts and mind and before we know if reconfigures our expectations in a dashing last flourish.

Of course, Olivier award-winning writer Mike Bartlett has written for Doctor Who (as well Doctor Foster, King Charles III, Albion and more) but there’s no time-travel in this his unperformed first play, just very smart structure and scripting. As Bartlett says in his programme notes, having two narrators for the same story makes the audience complicit: who do we believe and what is the truth? We try to pull the strands together and having four very different characters we’re stuck between establish-able fact and our favoured narrator/narrative until the options narrow and all is resolved.

It’s mathematical and it’s musical and the kind of play we all wish we could have written in our early twenties. There’s a particular piece from Chopin which links the narrative and, becomes a critical means of expression when words fail…

The play opens with two older people, Lucy (Kika Markham) and James (David Horovitch) reminiscing as the former plays Chopin. They are talking but not at or about the same time - they remember things differently and to them they still are even though they have no real means of transacting in the truth. James has always found talking easy and as a boy found it difficult to understand the idea of being reticent of “tongue-tied”… James sees himself as settled and yet there’s a – literally – unspoken gulf between him and wife Lucy.

Kika Markham
Lucy has never recovered from her daughter Mary being still born and it has broken down the core of their marriage: not for the first time, she plays her way out through Chopin.

Meanwhile… young squaddie Mark (Lawrence Walker) is pumped full of the adrenal gratification of being part of the army; guns to fire and orders to follow… a purposeful existence in which decisions are made for you. He sees Amanda (Gemma Lawrence), another young recruit at an army social and tries to engage with her on the dance floor… The His and Hers versions of this process are very funny – if only we had access to such intel eh lads?

But things will take a sinister turn and in Mark’s innocent confusion, the unravelling realisation will shake his relationship to the core.

Bartlett’s Grandfather had been a conscientious objector in the Second World War and, at the same age at the time of writing, he was inspired by this as well as reports of institutional bullying in the Army. James is a committed Christian and takes the highly-principled and painful stance of being a “conschie” at the start of the War but Lucy even knowing he needs her to stay proud of him, just couldn’t…

Gemma Lawrence, Kika Markham, Lawrence Walker and David Horovitch 
60 years later, Mark is under orders not to speak about the sexual assault he has witnessed and takes refuge behind these commands even though the subject of the assault is Amanda. With comrades and officers all against her, all complicit and some directly involved, she has no escape and, with something to say but no one to say it too, she simply shuts down and plays Chopin on the piano.

Back in the War Lucy discovers that James is having an affair with a woman called Susan… she starts playing piano every day when James comes home… unable to verbalise her response she lets him know through music and routine. He stops the affair but this will not be the end of it.

Secrets held for decades and a sexual assault covered up by the military what could possibly tie them together? I strongly suggest you get a ticket for yourself and find out.

Not Talking is intimate and casts a spell over its audience by pulling them in to its intricate mystery.

It’s superbly performed by an exceptional cast not least Kika Markham who is so powerfully febrile as Lucy, a woman for whom hanging on in quiet desperation has become almost a comfort. In turn you hang on her every word for meaning and yet the words are even then undermined by deft contrapuntal expression. The same goes for David Horovitch; entirely subsumed in the character of the worthy and ultimately very worthwhile James; these people are genuine and good they just need to find their answers.

David Horovitch
The Two Lawrences are full of fire – Mr Walker’s Mark prowls in confusion in search of real meaning in his life whilst Gemma’s Amanda has her trust thrown back in her face yet still won't deny herself the chance to connect...

The four interact in variable couplings and James Hillier directs with purposeful precision – this must have taken a set square, ruler and a lot of note paper. It must have taken negotiation and a lot of talking...

Not Talking plays at the Arcola until 2nd June – tickets available from the Box Office or online. It's another quality production from Dalston and, along with Moormaid, the Arcola has two of the best Spring indie productions in London! Book with confidence!

Ithankyou Theatre Rating: **** Thoroughly engaging and intelligent theatre that sneaks up and grabs you!

Photo Credit: Lidia Crisafulli

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