Review: The Silence of the Sea (part of the Donmar Trafalgar Season)

(from left) Simona Bitmaté, Finbar Lynch and Leo Bill. Photo by Simon Kane

(from left) Simona Bitmaté, Finbar Lynch and Leo Bill. Photo by Simon Kane

Within a few minutes of the performance starting, I had decided not to review The Silence of the Sea. I was feeling tired and the woman behind me was talking out loud and being thoroughly annoying. My concentration was not what it should be.

What changed my mind? Like the best productions, The Silence of the Sea defied place, time and practical considerations to keep me in rapt attention. Adapted from a book by Vercors, in a version by Anthony Weigh and directed by Simon Evans, the story, set in France during world war II German occupation, has the leanness of hard horrific times.

Three people in a house. Two of them silent. One of them talks to us. Another one talks to them. He talks a lot. Leo Bill, playing Werner, goes through pages and pages of words like a drowning man. He doesn’t so much talk as he bleeds words. He is disillusioned, but appearances matter and he tries to hold onto them. All the more disturbing, the illusions he clings to will destroy humanity.  Bill is superb in conveying increased desperation, like pouring sweat. The more he hides it, the more it pools on his face.

Finbar Lynch has the disturbing calmness and hard soul of difficult times. His demeanor, controlled, unsurprised speaks of untold hardship. Simona Bitmaté as his young niece, tender and unbroken, experiences
loss with the defiance and fragility of the young.

The spareness of the set is matched to a vibrant soundscape. The sounds take a life of their own. The light through the cracks suggests vivid life but also dark secrets. There is much life beyond these walls, not all of it welcome.

Written in 1942, the story is a complex look in relationships forged in desperation. Proximity counts more than sympathy. People bond with who is closest, not who they like. It’s a blessing as well as a tragedy.

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