It seems strangely regressive of the Donmar to revive Robert Holman’s Making Noise Quietly, an insidious and deftly written bill of three miniaturist plays about the ripples of wartime in three significant encounters first seen at the Bush in 1986.
Although the idea must be to re-focus attention on a quietly impressive, though recently invisible, playwright, only one of the plays comes up as newly reverberating in Peter Gill’s meticulous and beautifully acted production, delicately designed by Paul Wills on a bare stage of muted greens.
That play is Lost in which a naval officer (John Hollingworth) arrives at the Redcar house of Mary Appleton ([Susan Brown) to inform her that her son, his friend, has been killed in action; not in Afghanistan, but in the Falklands.
Small chasms of communication place distance between all the characters whom Gill shows crossing the stage in a sort of private reverie though there’s a confusing surplus of personnel: one or two of these shadows don’t appear in the plays at all.
The title piece in the triptych remains difficult as a violent and uncouth soldier (Ben Batt) and his screeching, autistic eight year-old stepson (Lewis Andrews, a Billy Elliot graduate who appeared on press night), are given a firm lesson in suffering and experience by a Holocaust survivor, Helene Ensslin (Sara Kestelman), in the Black Forest. The slightly tortured dialogue hinges on the use, justified or not, of a four-letter descriptive expletive.
Easily the best play remains the first. In Being Friends an effete, bespectacled writer with a spinal condition, Eric Faber (a striking newcomer, Matthew Tennyson), accosts lounging farmhand Oliver Bell (Jordan Dawes) in a quiet Kentish meadow bordered by distant church bells and whizzing doodlebugs.
The year is 1944 and Faber is a portrait of the writer and artist Denton Welch who, like Holman’s Faber, went to Repton, made illustrations for Vogue and fell off his bike. Bell is a conscientious objector with a middle-class background who – like the soldier in Making Noise Quietly – needs sorting out.
Their social foreplay shows Holman’s writing at its best, and the acting is superb – especially from Tennyson who manages to twist his injured body into an expression of lazy, elegant affectation. At the end, the two men lie stark naked in the hot sun. The war goes on.