Sunday, 6 May 2012

Making Noise Quietly at The Donmar Warehouse

Jordan Dawes and Matthew Tennyson. Picture:
Making Noise Quietly by Robert Holman, directed at The Donmar by Peter Gill, is three plays in one, all dealing with experiences of war from different ages and points of view.

In the first short story, a chance meeting between a homosexual writer, Eric Faber, (Matthew Tennyson) and a young Quaker and a conscientious objector, Oliver Bell (Jordan Dawes), brings revelations and insights into both men's lives.

The stark set with only green paint to infer a meadow, did disturb me a little. Theatre is all about suspending disbelief and here the audience had to work hard to believe that Oliver Bell, a healthy and strong man with an open face and an easy smile, was indeed a social outcast because he worked on a farm instead of defending his country at war in the 1940's. Both Dawes and his co-star, Matthew Tennyson, needed all the help they could get to make this story and their characters real. A few sprigs of grass would have made a difference, perhaps. Even though Oliver Bell was not as much a caricature as Eric Faber, with his high-wasted wide legged trousers and effeminate gestures, his religious Oliver came across as stiff and shallow. While in contrast, when Tennyson, who was by far the more talented actor of the two, set down a tablecloth for his lunch, or ripped open a paper bag of cherries, the audience actually laughed. I wasn't sure, however, the playwright had planned on comic scenes in the performance.

The second play was - for me at least - far more convincing.

John Hollingworth and Susan Brown. Picture:
During the Falkland's War, a naval officer, John Hollingworth as Lieutenant Geoffrey Church, comes to offer his condolences to a mother of a fellow officer who has perished at sea, but finds that she has not been informed of the death. Both the shocked mother, the stiff naval officer, and the slowly unravelling story of the lost son, made me well up. By the grace of God, I've never had to experience this kind of scene. The Englishman was disturbed by Hollingworth's unpolished shoes, lack stiff collar and the biggest sin of all, a Navy issue cap instead of tailored Gieves & Hawkes one on a man who's father was Vice Admiral. The Englishman made the point that his appearance would have been Lieutenant Church's safety blanket when going to do a difficult task such as this. The research into the small details in the characters' lives could have been better, all the same the tragic plot of this play touched me deeply.

The third and final short play was set in modern times in Germany where a soldier, Alan Todd, played by Ben Batt, has gone AWOL.

He and his estranged wife's son, Sam (Lewis Andrews), are being given refuge with a local old woman, Helena Ensslin, played by Sara Kestelman. Sam, the young boy is obviously disturbed, and instead of speaking, makes strange noises and gestures with his body. I feared what might transpire, and was indeed correct in my suspicions why Sam is dumb. Similarly the old German woman's history is as tragic as you would expect and the soldier is as violent as you'd expect and the whole story follows a predictable path. I'm afraid I didn't find anything in this last play to recommend it. There were just strong words, empty cursing and unconvincing lines, which all made the characters clumsy caricatures, in spite of the best efforts of the cast.

Making Noise Quietly
Three Short Plays
by Robert Holman
Donmar Warehouse
Until 26 May 2012

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