Wednesday 25 April 2012

Theatre review: Making Noise Quietly

Josie Rourke continues her first season at the Donmar with a show that links it to her previous theatre - Robert Holman's Making Noise Quietly premiered at the Bush in 1986, and director Peter Gill has worked at both theatres before. The play is a triptych, and in a programme note David Eldridge says its format directly influenced his own play Under The Blue Sky (which I liked, so I'll take that as a recommendation) and Simon Stephens' Wastwater (which I'm sure is also meant to be a recommendation but I don't think I know anyone who actually saw Wastwater who'd consider the comparison as a good thing.) Eldridge and Stephens also, of course, co-wrote A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky with Holman, and he seems to be a writer with a huge influence on other playwrights.

War and the armed forces crop up in all three plays. The opener is Being Friends, set during the Second World War, and featuring two young men who haven't joined the army: Eric (Matthew Tennyson) is a writer who was invalided out due to an earlier accident; visiting a lake for a solo picnic he encounters conscientious objector Oliver (Jordan Dawes, pictured) sunbathing on a break from farm work. The openly, flamboyantly gay Eric flirts with the handsome farmhand, whose religious beliefs can only hold back his own sexuality so far. It's the lightest, funniest of the plays, and while Tennyson's outrageous flirting is funny, I did feel like he was milking it for laughs at times. Both men also get aFULL FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!and it appears that despite the wartime setting, some things have not been rationed. (Although in Tennyson's case he's so slight and skinny that contrast might have exaggerated the apparent heft.)

Next is Lost, where a mother (Susan Brown) is attacked by a smoke-monster when her plane crashes on a mysterious island is visited by a naval officer (John Hollingworth) who worked with the estranged son she hasn't heard from in five years, delivering the news that he's been killed in the Falklands. It's intensely performed but incredibly subdued, an almost-static conversation that might as well be radio.

After the interval it's the longest play, Making Noise Quietly, featuring both the previous conflicts colliding: In 1986, Falklands veteran Alan (Ben Batt) meets Holocaust survivor Helene (Sara Kestelman) near her summer home in a German forest, and asks her for help with his emotionally damaged 8-year-old stepson Sam (Jack Boulter in tonight's performance) who refuses to speak and only communicates by stamping his foot or writing notes on his arm. At first I thought there were some interesting themes about the point where love and hate cross but Alan and Helene's constant back-and-forths grow tiring quickly, and the former is just too dislikeable a character to care about beyond hoping the kid ends up all right. Andy, who was my theare companion again tonight, also really disliked Helene, but I didn't actually find her unlikeable as such, just a bit odd in her methods (and exactly why either of them thinks a textile designer with a tragic childhood is in some way qualified to counsel a troubled child is anyone's guess.)

I like plays that don't spoon-feed the audience but Holman's triptych seems to require a lot of effort with little reward at the end of it. I don't particularly dislike the deliberately elliptical endings to all three plays, but coupled with the vagueness of what he's trying to say in general they make for a frustrating evening. The opening playlet has some positives on its own (no, I don't just mean the big cocks) but the evening gets increasingly oblique, unsatisfying and, at times, dull.

Making Noise Quietly by Robert Holman is booking until the 26th of May at the Donmar Warehouse.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.


  1. Thanks for the review! Jordan is GORGEOUS! I am VERY jealous of you seeing him au natural. I really hope he is captured on film.

    1. I don't know what the Donmar's policy on filming performances is, but apparently a lot of theatre now gets filmed for the V&A's archives; Rev Stan knows more about that than I do. I certainly can't remotely see this being recorded for commercial purposes, like Digital Theatre or the like.

  2. These plays are all drivel - the worst thing the Donmar has ever staged. And for those intrigued by the male nudity, there have to be cheaper/better time invested ways of getting your kicks than sitting through two plus hours of this. Avoid!!!