Making Noise Quietly at the Whitehall Theatre
This trio of plays by Robert Holman are all based around a single theme, war. Or, to be more precise about people's reactions to war and the struggle to maintain a way of life while disruption is all around. One of the plays is set in the second world war, one of them is set in the Falklands and the third, while set in the 80s, carries a resonance of the Holocaust. Credit to Holman here, these are ambitious themes and, if all the plays don't quite work, at least it makes a change from the usual West End fare of musicals.
The first play, Being Friends, is the weakest of the three. Set in 1944, it's about two young men, one a homosexual artist and one a conscientious objector having a picnic while doodlebugs fly overhead. Overly mannered and self-conscious, it meanders along for 30 minutes, seeming more like a sketch for a play, with some of the gaps to be filled in later.
The third play, from which the evening takes its name, is a more substantial piece. Alan is a fugitive from the British army and along with Sam, his eight-year old stepson, he is sheltering in the home of Helene, a German businesswoman. Alan's brutality and Sam's inability to speak contrast strongly with Helene's tolerance and stoicism, a legacy of her time in a concentration camp. While containing some powerful moments, the whole scenario seems too contrived to be true - perhaps a longer piece could have developed the themes a bit more.
Much the best of the plays is the middle one, Lost. Set during the Falklands war, it tells of how Geoffrey, a young naval officer comes to May's house to break the news of her son's death. But that simple premise disguises the true nature of the play which veers off in several surprising directions. It's soon apparent that the loss of the title is not merely that of a young life but the dislocation of a family as well. Intelligent and well-written, this play demonstrates the very English arts of stiff upper lips and understatement and how they are often used to cover up real hurt.
The evening is not a comfortable ride by any means, with male nudity and enough four letter words for a Channel Four series - consequently, some of the audience looked decidedly ill-at-ease.
There was warm and well-merited applause for the actors, however. Eleanor Bron brought warmth and humanity to both women's parts, and if most of the audience were there to see her, well, she didn't let them down. As for the two men, Being Friends was such a mix of cliché and caricature that it would almost be unfair to criticise either actors for it. But Peter Hanly s Geoffrey was a well judged performance of a restrained Englishman. And in Making Noise Quietly, John Lloyd Fellingham s Alan brought a real sense of incoherence and rage to a difficult part.
Making Noise Quietly opened at the Whitehall Theatre 19 April and continues to 22 May 1999.