Silence

Filter and David Farr
Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company
Hampstead Theatre
(2011)

Silence publicity image

Marshall McLuhan is the man who told the world that "the medium is the message". Had he not done so over half a century ago, one might have guessed the Canadian had discovered this fact while watching the work of Filter.

Silence, which has been commissioned by the RSC, is a classic example of the meticulous effort that they put into the creation of what in this case is an amalgam of two simple but telling stories.

In one, we observe the complicated love life of Kate, played by a very moving Katy Stephens. The chronology is muddied and it takes some time to realise that when she is young and clubby, recklessly rushing from Berlin to Russia, we are in 1991 while the older, married version only comes along twenty years later.

By then, the marketing executive is happily married to a documentary broadcaster, Oliver Dimsdale's Michael, and the couple have realised that their biological clocks are reaching a critical point. However, a call from the past takes Kate to the far side of Europe in search of an old Russian flame, cheerless Aleksei played by Ferdy Roberts.

The link with the other story is Michael, who, as his wife almost deserts him, is desperately searching through tapes for information on a shady Metropolitan Police unit, which he suspects of dirty deeds.

Eventually, Michael and his Irish sound recordist, Jonjo O'Neill as Peter, do a fine detective job to discover a rogue copper who overstepped the mark in the face of a minor irritant from the left-wing splinter group Militant. The thrill of the chase eventually builds a good head of steam until we reach a satisfying resolution, whereas the love story is left up in the air in a suitably silent final scene.

As the preamble to this review suggests, the storylines very much take second place to the delivery. They shine a light on some popular political zeitgeists but are extended a little further than is ideal in order to stretch the running time to 100 minutes. However, the purpose of the show is to show off the often remarkable staging abilities of this singular company.

The distinguishing element of the evening is the means by which Filter create their theatre. To start with, they have what is effectively the antithesis of a set. In effect, there is nothing at all. Microphones, cameras and various other aids are fully visible, as are the technicians who create sound and visual effects. You soon learn to look around whenever you hear or see something, to discover its source. This will frequently not be what one would naturally anticipate.

At its best, this slick theatrical style bears a close relationship to magic. You watch two or three people working together to create an effect, which might have its own meaning or beauty. As often as not, this only peripherally involves the actors, although the finest sequence of the evening is a drunken mime impeccably performed by Mariah Gale playing Peter's lonely Australian next door neighbour.

Her surveillance by the otherwise perfectly ethical Peter is one of many examples of contradictory behaviour, which might well be the theme that this company would like us to take away from this unusually experimental branching out by the RSC.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher