Pros: Thought-provoking storytelling from an excellent cast.
Cons: The phlegmatic British attitude in the telling of the story left me a bit cold, but then I think that was the point.
Seated face on to the thrust stage I was afforded a perfect view of the scene, which was virtually bare but for an upright piano stood at the back. The sheet music it bore would act as an emotional thread throughout the play, Chopin’s sad notes linking the pain of the different characters. A welcome and beautiful addition to the sparse stage atmosphere, it represented in sound what the characters could not express in words.
Across the course of the play the connections between the characters and their experiences that emerged was something I really appreciated. Not Talking focuses solely on four individuals, separated by time but connected by war, violence (both emotional and physical), inaction and silence. It really got me thinking about knowledge and culpability; sometimes doing nothing can be just as harmful as taking action.
Monologues were delivered to the audience both in turn and overlapping, the story piecing together bit by bit, which kept us attached to the narrative in an otherwise simplistic production. Our actors never once looked at each other or made contact; when two of them finally embraced at the end I felt a sense of relief almost that the distance had been breached. The lack of interaction up to that point had left me cold, but then I suppose that was the point – silence creates distance, and loneliness.
Lighting design was really very effective because it separated the speeches and punctuated them with life, so in a very physically static play you felt the action of the telling. Direction was similarly inventive; the movement of the characters brought their words to life, and the blank stage transformed into multiple locations from a house to an army barracks with no scenery or prop intervention required.
One key confessional moment was intruded upon for me by some noise pollution from beyond the auditorium, but otherwise the Arcola is a first rate venue with exceptionally polite and efficient staff. Not Talking didn’t touch my heart, but it certainly gave my head plenty to think about. Definitely worth the trip to Dalston Junction for Mike Bartlett fans.
Writer: Mike Bartlett
Director: James Hillier
Producer: Arcola Theatre and Defibrillator
Associate Producer: Epsilon Productions
Designer: Amy Jane Cook
Lighting Designer: Zoe Spurr
Sound Designer: Simon Slater
Booking Until: 2 June 2018
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Booking Link: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/not-talking-2018-05-21/