SILENCE
Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
Opened 18 May, 2011
****

The company Filter always show us how a production is put together: bare stage, sound/vision makers or mixers visible to the audience, sometimes even borrowing costumes from us. It is not unlike Katie Mitchell’s “live movie” sage ventures; however, Mitchell usually seems so focused on the process of construction and the artificiality of the resulting construct that its more intangible power leaches away, whereas Filter remain concerned with communicating with us intellectually and emotionally. They do not always arrive at their intended destination, but even this kind of journey has more to fascinate us than, as it were, staying fixated on the means of transportation.
    
This piece (devised in tandem with director David Farr under the aegis of the RSC) is decidedly one of their more successful outings. I think the key for a viewer is to approach it as a narrative montage, corresponding with the aural montage which is in one way its subject. The 90-minute piece seems to deal more with the absence of silence: with sound from the tinnitus which chronically afflicts Kate (and which we, of course, hear at times too) to a mix tape, a covert interview, even the simple sound of a lie. It is when the sound lets up that silence too becomes significant: that which is unspoken or unheard. Kate searches in Russia for an old flame from 20 years ago who has been psychologically crippled by military service, while back in London her husband Michael makes a documentary film about a covert-action squad in the Metropolitan Police around the same time. (This chronology goes a little adrift: the Greater London Council could hardly have fomented anti-poll tax riots that took place four years after its disbandment.)
    
As Michael’s sound man records the noises made by his neighbour, one is reminded of Francis Ford Coppola’s wonderful early film The Conversation; a more oblique allusion is made in naming a Russian businessman after the collective pseudonym of a French school of mathematicians. Such resonances (ah, a sound metaphor again) are part of the way in which we are active collaborators in the theatrical experience. A clutch of the RSC’s finest recent actors – Jonjo O’Neill, Richard Katz, Katy Stephens, Mariah Gale, Christine Entwisle – join Filter supremos Oliver Dimsdale and Ferdy Roberts onstage, whilst the company’s co-founder Tim Phillips oversees the tapestries of sound and music which are the musculature of the piece.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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