Silence Drives Worlds Apart In Mike Bartlett’s Not Talking

Not Talking, Arcola Theatre ★★★☆☆

Silence Drives Worlds Apart In Mike Bartlett’s Not Talking Not Talking, Arcola Theatre 3
Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

From the personal, to the institutional, Mike Bartlett’s Not Talking is vociferous on how silence can tear apart lives. Cordelia said ‘nothing’ and a tragedy ensued — in its own way, the silent treatment is a destructive force here.

It’s what Bartlett describes as his ‘first proper play’, written on graduating from Leeds University and originally performed on the radio. At the Arcola it gets its first airing on stage and there is much to admire and enjoy.

Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

James (David Horovitch) and Amanda (Gemma Lawrence) are the old married couple, who share a terrible secret — the tragic loss of a daughter. But instead of talking, they escape into their own worlds, she playing Chopin on repeat and he having an affair. Crossing their paths are Lucy (Kika Markham) and Mark (Lawrence Walker), young army cadets, who are victims of another type of silence. As Lucy is subject to a brutal attack, can Mark turn a blind eye, just in order to be a good soldier and say nothing?

The simple theme is brought out well in the device of characters directly speaking to the audience while inarticulately talking to each other. Silence drives worlds apart, even if the two people are standing inches from each other.

But when Lucy and James cling to one another after blundering but honest words, the case for speaking truth to power and to one another has some resolution. Yet, we cannot help feeling that Not Talking is more a glimpse into a developing skill than a strong story. We’d just as much prefer to see first time writers in London today given the chance.

Not Talking, Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, E8 3DL. Tickets £12/15, until 2 June 2018.

Last Updated 04 May 2018