By David Fletcher

Directed by Sue Moore

Review by Peter McGarry

Running time 1 hour 10 minutes

WITH a sense of sad resignation, we have come to accept that war will always be with us in some shape or form.
Truly a Pity, as the theme of the Loft’s mini-repertory season proclaims.

David Fletcher’s new play may have nothing new to say – but says it very powerfully. It’s part of the overall tragedy that the image of a young soldier traumatised into mental lock-in by the horrors of the Falklands War seems all too familiar now.

In the intimate studio environment, the silence of the title is hardly golden but it’s cleverly woven under Sue Moore’s sympathetic direction into a strong and unnerving experience.

There is the soldier, a victim of the old shell shock, now in politically correct terminology called post-traumatic stress disorder, who is initially an unspeaking human wreck. And there is the counsellor, seeking a pathway into a damaged mind and suffering his own private setbacks in the process.

For Michael Barker and Phil Reynolds respectively, this is an enormous acting challenge and they respond magnificently. As the counsellor with gentle subtlety seeks to probe and encourage, the soldier slowly starts to emerge from his faraway planet. The relationship flickers between latent aggression on the one hand and stoic acceptance and resolution on the other.

There are the silences which only the most confident of productions such as this can successfully maintain. And there are contrasting moments when the hospital administrator, so effectively played by Ruth MacCallum, vents her anger over the devastating curbs on resources with which she is faced.

The play edges us along a route undertaken by so many victims over the years of countless conflicts. We experience hope, we suffer disillusion, we wonder what the future will hold.

A formidable piece of writing indeed, conveying truths we have heard before. But perhaps they can’t be repeated enough in performances of this quality.

The Silence runs at The Loft Studio until October 20.

The Silence

By David Fletcher

Directed by : Sue Moore

7-20 Oct 2018

Faced with the true horrors of war, when words don’t do justice to the experience, the only response is silence. For many of us this is a voluntary mark of personal or collective respect, an acknowledgement of what has been lost. For some, like Sergeant Matthew Williams (Michael Barker) in David Fletcher’s new play, The Silence, it is a forced silence, an utterly overwhelming response to personal trauma of a kind that no-one who has not experienced it can fully understand, for which words are inadequate.

But if not words, then what have we got to tell what must be told, lest it destroys us? This is Sgt Williams dilemma. He is a survivor of the Falklands War, shocked beyond recognition by seeing his best friend shot by a sniper before his very eyes. Now he is in a military hospital back in Britain, suffering alone and in silence. The hospital administrator, Major Helen Whitfield (Ruth MacCallum) is his nemesis, a woman seemingly more interested in performance figures than patients, who wants to move him on because he is blocking a bed. The only man who can save him Chris Mason (Phil Reynolds), a counsellor brought in to try to prise open the locked doors of Williams’s mind.

In real life this would be a long hard process, perhaps with no happy ending in sight. Here, in David Fletcher’s taught, deeply moving play, it lasts just an hour. But the distance travelled is enormous, and the feelings along the way palpable.

Ruth MacCallum gives her part a dignity and complexity that is not often found in such a role. It is a powerful, complex performance. Phil Reynolds’s portrayal of Chris Mason, is of a man fighting his own battles with the past, who emerges as a kind of hero, in a conflict where the nature of heroism itself is conflicted. Much of the play involves him listening to Sgt Williams, allowing him to be heard. As he walks beside the damaged man, so we walk beside him. He embodies that much misunderstood word, compassion.

Michael Barker’s Sgt Matthew Williams is at the centre of the play. He is a dark, brooding, ugly, angry man, a man deeply damaged by the demands placed upon him in active service, and one whom most of us would very likely cross the road to avoid. His pain is palpable, extending throughout the whole play. Yet he is redeemed in the end by a kind of love, which he returns as best he can. It is a towering performance, complex and deeply felt.

At the end Sgt Williams is discharged, ‘cured’, though God knows where and what he is going to. What is there after this? To paraphrase Wilfred Owen’s words, “Only the monstrous anger of the guns,” and the silence thereafter. It, and the play named after it, are worth listening to.

Nick LeMesurier

For Leamington Courier


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