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Review: Not Talking, at Arcola Theatre

Bittersweet drama about the perils of failing to communicate is a fast-paced production that demonstrates Mike Bartlett’s skill as a writer

03 May, 2018 — By Lucy Popescu

Silence is golden: David Horovitch and Laurence Walker in Not Talking. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

IN stressful situations it is often easier to keep quiet, to say nothing.

Mike Bartlett’s bittersweet drama about the perils of not talking is given its stage premiere 12 years after it was first conceived and adapted for radio. James Hillier’s fast-paced production, Zoe Spurr’s atmospheric lighting and nuanced performances help ensure its successful transition to stage.

James (David Horovitch) and Lucy (Kika Markham) have enjoyed a long marriage and an apparently contented life in Sussex. But painful events are not spoken of and they have never shared their grief over an early loss that marked them both. Furthermore, Lucy has kept silent on something that might have destroyed their marriage and transformed James’s life forever.

Amanda (Gemma Lawrence) and Mark (Lawrence Walker) are two young soldiers who become romantically involved while waiting to be posted to Iraq. Their mutual silence about a terrible act and an abuse of power eventually drives a wedge between them.

Lucy and Amanda find solace in playing the piano, in particular a piece by Chopin. For them, music replaces words and helps alleviate powerful emotions. When James learns of the secret Lucy has been harbouring for a lifetime he takes action and his fate becomes intertwined with those of the two soldiers with unexpected consequences.

Bartlett’s skill as a writer is very much in evidence in this early work. Monologues overlap, time is temporarily suspended as two characters describe the same memory, Chopin’s prelude is a powerful motif and the plot threads are pulled neatly together at the end. As his play amply demonstrates, it pays to talk.

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