The Silence Of The Sea, Trafalgar Studios 12 January


This play–let’s not worry about the original novella by Jean Bruller, alias Vercors–is set in Occupied France during World War II.  Very probably.  Most of the time.  But sometimes the characters refer with poetic vagueness to ‘this country’, ‘foreign soldiers’ and the like, so maybe you’re not meant to be so sure.

The basic idea is that an old man and his niece have had a German officer billeted on them.  They settle down into Survive Unwanted Meeting mode and refuse to speak to him.  I could certainly sympathise, because I was in SUM mode as well, and was rationing myself to one glance at my watch every quarter-hour or so.

The soldier (Leo Bill) addressed the other two and of course got no answer.  The uncle (Finbar Lynch) addressed the audience (or himself), and in a bit of an Irish accent as well.  The niece (Simona Bitmaté) didn’t get to say anything until the very end, but did a lot of miming.

At the beginning, she mimed opening the shutters (lighting effect), opening the piano (sound effect of piano lid), playing the piano  (sound effect of piano playing), and then the uncle carried the piano stool right through where the piano was meant to be.  (I guess that may have been a scene change.)

There were many of these kinds of inconsistencies in 90 minutes’ worth of sparse text.  On the one hand, the old man seemed to be some kind of simpleton isolated from the realities of normal life, while on the other he discoursed knowledgeably about classical composers (while being unable to pronounce the names of the French ones correctly).  The German officer similarly couldn’t manage simple German words like das Meer, but at least we were saved from comedy foreign accents.  The old man managed to buy pieces of fish that then required gutting.  The local village (presumably on the Atlantic coast) apparently featured an abandoned synagogue, which seemed a bit unlikely also…

Now this may all have been meant to evoke a sense of dislocation and numbness, in the style of Kurt Vonnegut and Flann O’Brien, all of a piece with the strategy of denying the invaders beauty, comfort and piano-playing–but it just irritated me.  Similarly the officer’s speeches were probably meant to show him drowning in ghastliness as he became aware of it.

Perhaps even the way we were charged £ 3-00 for the Internet booking system that sold tickets for seats that were not available was calculated to the same end, like the waiter on the officer’s Paris jaunt deliberately mixing everything up.

It got a bit more interesting at the end, where something actually happened…

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