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The Hush

Matthew Herbert and Ben Power's "experiential journey into sound" stars Tobias Menzies and Susannah Wise and runs at the National Theatre Shed

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Tobias Menzies
© Simon Kane

You take off your shoes and put them in a rack as you enter the auditorium. That rack will become an illuminated backdrop to an experiment in sound devised by Matthew Herbert and Ben Power, featuring two actors and two foley artists in full view.

Herbert, who is creative director of the new BBC Radiophonic Workshop, as well as an electronic music specialist, DJ and sound designer, places us in a chamber of whispers and echoes – and sticky feet; those summer sandals, worn without socks, were not a good idea – where the first actor, Tobias Menzies, is asking for the sounds, and the second, Susannah Wise, is accosted by them.

Given the advances made in sound design over recent years, this all sounds like a fairly good idea; and I love the fact that the sophistication of audio noise depends here on the foley artists scraping on stones, or splashing in water, or creasing up folds of material.

But after barely an hour it doesn't really amount to very much beyond a sort of Beckettian minimalism without the poetry, nor does it carry any theatrical heft, despite the eventual over-lapping of the two actors' "stories." It's a good idea that doesn't resonate beyond its own technical ingenuity.

The truth is out there if we listen hard enough, is the premise, though what exactly that amounts to is not very clear. Menzies starts by asking for the sounds in the foyer, Wise learns something uncomfortable about her private life, and the fourth wall is literally shattered with an unexpected view of the staircase outside up to Waterloo Bridge.

You feel that the show is too random and too slight at the same time, and the novelty of seeing the foley artists – Barnaby Smyth and Ruth Sullivan - at work on an upper level does not accumulate beyond that. Still, the NT can file this one under "pure experiment" and audiences can take from Herbert's production as much, or as little, as they like.