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Not Talking at Arcola Theatre. David Horovitch (James) and Lawrence Walker (Ryan) photo credit Lidia Crisafulli

Not Talking – A rehearsal visit at the Arcola Theatre

22 April 2018 Suzanne Frost

In his gripping and lyrical first play Olivier Award-winning writer Mike Bartlett unlocks a culture of silence and gives voice to the human casualties when things are easier done than said. Not Talking was first broadcast as a radio play on BBC Radio 3 in 2007 and went on to win the Imison and Tinniswood Awards. Now the work is being adapted for the stage and London Calling was invited to get a sneak peek into rehearsals and talk to the cast and creative team as they are preparing for a world stage premiere.

James, the character played by David Horovitch opens the scene with an interesting line: “Talking to each other is natural for children. It is later in life that we suddenly find it difficult.“
 
What is the play about? Horovitch and Gemma Lawrence, who plays Amanda, laugh: “We will probably give you two completely different answers!” Amanda sees it as a play about the danger of being in an environment where you are silenced and not able to talk about what happens to you but also the liberation and the freeing power of when you do open up. For David, the play speaks of “the danger of putting the lid on emotions. If you talk you might open that Pandora’s box and things might come out that you can’t control and for these people that is a dangerous thing to do. There isn’t really a single moment in the play where characters actually address each other.”

Kika Markham (Lucy) David Horovitch (James) photo credit Lidia Crisafulli

Not Talking is a memory play but the characters seem to live on different timelines and continuously speak past each other. There is a great palpable distance between them. They also remember memories and shared experiences decidedly differently.
 
There are two stories and two couples we follow, an older couple remembering events from the Second World War, and a young couple re-enacting things that happened around 1996 and the early 2000s.  One couple find themselves in a relationship where it has become impossible to talk. The other couple is part of a system within an institution that protects abuse of power. How do you speak out? Their stories will intersect only once and there will be a moment for the audience where it all makes sense.

Gemma Lawrence (Amanda) photo credit Lidia Crisafulli

Exploring institutions that silence people, the play investigates an incident that happened in the Deepcut barracks in Surrey around 1996, where four soldiers died or were killed amid rumours of exploitation, suicide and sexual harassment. It was never fully disclosed what exactly happened. The play was written 13 years ago but is still horribly resonant with discourse today about silencing people and a culture that allows abuse and protects the powerful. “When there are abuses of power and if the people who are in power are complicit in it, you don’t know who to turn to”, says Amanda.  “Power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts and this play investigates whether that is necessarily so: Will power always abuse and is it human nature to abuse power?”, David adds.
 
With the characters literally not talking to each other, only addressing the audience, you get the sense of confessions. Director James Hillier goes even further: “It is almost like a tribunal. There is an event in the play that lends itself to this being a tribunal, a criminal act that brings these people together and because of that there is a sense that they are having to testify.”
 
“It has something of a courtroom drama”, David adds.

James Hillier (Director) photo credit Lidia Crisafulli

So do we take sides? “I’m hoping you would feel that each of the characters come as a result of where they are and maybe the system they are in but saying that, I think we do feel by the end of the play, that some of the characters make the wrong choices and some characters learn from their wrong choices better than others”, explains James. “Character is not black and white, character is grey and people make mistakes and they don’t always necessarily have a choice about those mistakes. I think a large part of where the title ‘Not Talking’ comes from is how can characters change their lives and get control of their lives, and one way the play suggests you can do that is talking, reaching out. “
 
Not Talking opens at the Arcola Theatre on 1 May.
 
 
 
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