“The Silence of the Sea” at the Trafalgar Studios

A very different kind of wartime drama, based on a novella written at the start of World War II by French intellectual Jean Bruller, aka Vercors, The Silence of the Sea is about an unusually quiet form of resistance. A German soldier is billeted with a French couple whose delivery of the silent treatment tests his sanity. It’s a form of rebellion that demands determination and restraint – both from its protagonists and the creative team of the play – and the results are startling, compelling and easy to recommend.

The Silence of the Sea is sophisticated stuff, not least in its nuanced approach to the occupying Nazi: a philosophising Francophile of remarkable amiability, he’s a musician at home so that the silence of his unwilling housemates becomes a torture to him and leads him to confide more and more.

The three complex roles produce some fine acting. Leo Bill brings just the right edge to his unusually sensitive warrior, showing great skill in just holding back from winning us over, and Simona Bitmaté gives an intense performance as the young woman forced to live with him. But it’s the excellent Finbar Lynch who has our attention, with asides to the audience that show his remarkable ability as a storyteller.

The production marks the end of the Donmar’s initiative for young directors at the Trafalgar Studios, supported by United House, and that’s a pity. The director here, Simon Evans, has excelled. Generating fantastic performances that feel in-depth but not indulgent, with the help of some great sound design from Gregory Clarke, he makes this tiny venue drip with atmosphere, and cleverly glides over the play’s more pretentious moments to focus on its powerful drama.

Until 2 February 2012

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photo by Simon Kane

Written 15 January 2013 for The London Magazine

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