The novella Le Silence de la mer by Jean Bruller, better known as Vercors, is set against the backdrop of the Nazi occupation of France. Written in 1941, and now adapted for the English stage by Anthony Weigh, it sees a German lieutenant, Werner, take up lodgings in the French village where he is stationed with a nameless Older Man and Younger Woman.
In the six months he is there they never speak to him, leading him to become disorientated as he chatters away into nothing. As the Man explains to the audience, this policy of silence was not premeditated, but when the Woman later refutes his suggestion that they might start communicating with the solider it does become deliberate. The practice then becomes so ingrained that even when Werner leaves for a few days, the pair don’t even speak to each other through fear of talking about him.
At a time when many French people were still seeing the Germans as well-mannered saviours of France, Vercors was using an intimate domestic setting to reveal the darker realities, and Werner repeatedly talks of seeing everything as his to possess (he claims this is a human trait, but Vercors suggests it is a German one). The work, however, is too clever to make him a stereotypical Nazi, and he is shown to be a sensitive musician who believes that France can benefit from Germany’s ‘blessing’. Indeed, it is impossible not to feel some sympathy for Werner as he prattles into the void, is shocked himself when he learns what Nazi occupation is really about in Paris, and finally heads towards ‘Hell on Earth’. Vercors also ensures that the unorthodox relationship between the Man and Woman is a driver in itself in the scenario.
In the smaller of the Trafalgar Studios, a suitably repressive atmosphere is generated through effective lighting and sound effects, while it is the measured performances of Leo Bill as Werner, and Finbar Lynch and Simona Bitmaté as the Man and Woman, that really hook us into the intensity of the situation.
The Silence of the Sea is the last of three plays in the third Donmar Trafalgar Season, a United House sponsored initiative to support the work of young directors (in this instance, Simon Evans). Until 2 February 2013 at the Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, City of Westminster, SW1A 2DY with start times of 3.00pm and 7.45pm. For tickets (£22) click here.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from The Corner Shop PR.
Photo: Finbar Lynch as the Older Man, Leo Bill as Werner and Simona Bitmaté as the Younger Woman.