Review: The Human Voice's Isolation Monologue Already Feels Dated

The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre ★★★☆☆

Review: The Human Voice's Isolation Monologue Already Feels Dated The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre 3
The Human Voice is heavy on the effects of isolation, emotional turmoil and social disconnection on one's mental health. Image: Jan Versweyveld

Tilda Swinton did it with Pedro Almodovar. Barbara Hannigan did it recently with (and while conducting) an entire orchestra. And, down at the Harold Pinter Theatre, Ruth Wilson is now doing it nightly in front of a live audience.

Jean Cocteau's La Voix Humaine is, essentially, a 70-minute suicide note designed to be performed by a solo female. This is less a monologue and more a monodrama: rather than being a talking head, the actor is seen on the phone to an ex-lover who is about to get married to his new paramour. On the verge of what appears to be a nervous breakdown, she tells him "for five years, I lived off you; you were my only breathable air."

The Human Voice is heavy on the effects of isolation, emotional turmoil and social disconnection on one's mental health and, with Wilson kitted out for most of the time in a sweater and tracksuit bottoms, this play would have been deeply touching a year or maybe even six months ago. Now, it just feels dated. It has such a morose tone throughout that, when Radiohead are played during a key scene, it makes things (somewhat) cheerier.

The set design with Wilson portrayed behind a stage-wide window is unambitious and obvious. Image: Jan Versweyveld

Acclaimed creator/director Ivo van Hove adapts this from a version he did in 2009 and, for once, his magic touch largely fails him. The set design with Wilson portrayed behind a stage-wide window is unambitious and obvious. Moreover, it makes it harder for the audience to empathise with the desperately sad situation.

This is not to take away from the powerhouse central performance. It's tempting to dock points for Wilson's painful attempt at Italian, however, she is often utterly convincing even as she pleads, begs and screams at her ex.

Van Hove's direction is generally nothing to write home about here but there's a saving grace metaphorically (and literally) at the death: for what feels like no more than a split second, we see Wilson standing on the window ledge, traffic noises coming from down below, her arms outstretched and the wind blowing through her gorgeous blue Dee Sheehan dress, a slight smile on her lips just before the theatre cuts to black.

Now, that vision will stay with us for quite some time.

The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre, Tickets from £15, until 9 April

Last Updated 23 March 2022