Theatre Review: Not Talking, Arcola Theatre, Hackney

Not Talking at the Arcola Theatre

Not Talking at the Arcola Theatre - Credit: Archant

Five star review for a classy revival of Mike Bartlett’s play about warring couples who don’t communicate

Not Talking at the Arcola Theatre

Not Talking at the Arcola Theatre - Credit: Archant



Some theatrical endeavours ooze class from every pore. From the moment the lights go down and the action fires up, you know you are in a pair of trusty, safe old hands.

The title of the Arcola’s riveting revival of Mike Bartlett’s 2006 radio play couldn’t be more literal.

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Two couples sink beneath the wave of silence; crucified by their own inability to communicate and heal their wounds. And yet it all starts so innocuously. A brief tinkle of Chopin at the piano may set a sombre tone, but it is the testimonies of elderly couple James (David Horovitch) and Amanda (Gemma Lawrence) that really set the teeth on edge.

Side-by-side they stand, narrating aspects of their history. They do not talk towards one another. They merely speak out into the ether and document a series of life-altering events from way back over time.

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Sadness adorns every syllable of their story. They then stand in the shadows to allow young couple Mark (Lawrence Walker) and Lucy (Kika Markham) to step forward. They do not engage directly either, but they speak excitedly of the first flushes of their romance that ignited at the army barracks.

As their story unfolds, however, further details bring about an uncomfortable reality.

What begins as two unconnected tales unfurls with increasing overlaps, until the two are woven expertly together in unpredictable – and cliché-free – ways.

Bartlett’s source material is meticulously constructed, provocative and moving. Although the play precedes it, there are shades of Andrew Haigh’s film ‘45 Years’ in its stately observations. The is even an ambience that echoes Pinter, and the juxtaposition in the early chapters of an elderly couple falling apart as the young couple come together is a stylistic masterstroke.

The direction is articulate, yet tasteful, the stage design is simple, yet explored to its full potential, and the performances reverberate compellingly with a measured gravitas.

All in all, there is undeniable proof that this enterprise has been translated from the airwaves to the stage with aplomb.

A must-see.

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