The Silence of the Sea
This has been a fine Donmar season of "foreign" plays by "new directors" in the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios; Arbuzov’s The Promise and Strindberg's The Father are now followed by Anthony Weigh’s stealthy and beautifully wrought adaptation of a samizdat classic of the French Resistance.
Jean Bruller’s novella The Silence of the Sea was published under the pseudonym of Vercors in 1942 during the darkest days of the Occupation. It registers the sullen opposition of an old country odd job man and his piano-teaching niece – neither is named – to the enforced residency of a Nazi officer, Werner, billeted in their cottage.
Weigh’s adaptation follows this format, while giving voice to the reluctant hosts, and Simon Evans’s discreet, poetic production – reverberate with noises in the night and the distant lapping of the sea – contains three perfectly measured and skilfully discharged performances.
Leo Bill is Werner, delivering his weekly washing to the aghast, seething girl with an excruciating paean of praise for their motherland and guff about how people are all the same under the skin, or the uniform; newcomer Simone Bitmaté almost implodes with sorrow before developing a distinctly ambiguous interest in the invader.
Meanwhile, Finbar Lynch’s old man recounts vivid incidents in the village and elaborates on his own not exactly straightforward relationship with the girl. The model of these intersecting confessional speeches – and Werner moves interestingly away from his own political conviction – could almost be a Conor McPherson play.
The play fiddles sensitively with ideas of nationhood, hospitality, invasion and betrayal, while the officer appears to be not exactly the obtuse monster we first meet. Bill manages these elisions with a wonderful lightness of touch, and his set-piece involving the humiliation of a waiter in a dining club is a corker.
Played straight through at just over ninety-five minutes, the drama is a small-scale event with a big political reach, and the Donmar presentation – design by Ben Stones of a stuccoed aquamarine wall and a wooden ceiling, lighting by David Plater, sound by Gregory Clarke – is as good as anything in town.