Since 2003 Filter have established their own distinctive style of innovative theatre-making, devising new shows like the global-warming drama Water and reinterpreting classics by Shakespeare, Chekhov and Brecht. Silence continues their collaboration with writer/director David Farr, Associate Director of the RSC, while for the first time sharing the stage with members of the RSC Ensemble, in an exciting exploration of personal and political liberty.
The play pursues two parallel storylines which delve into the murky past in a thriller-like way. The receipt of a parcel prompts Kate to travel to Russia to try to find Alexei, the free-spirited man she fell in love with about 20 years before. Meanwhile back in London her documentary film-maker husband Michael, investigating a clandestine police surveillance unit in the early 90s, tracks down an officer involved.
Silence juxtaposes the repression of anti-establishment activity in Thatcherite Britain with the way post-Soviet democracy turns into black-market capitalism, as well as touching on freedom as a state of mind and the ethics of journalism. The brilliant way in which the play moves so fluidly in time and place, with overlapping scenes, jump cuts and flashbacks, has a cinematic quality and yet is totally theatrical. At one point the stage is split between a café in Lewisham and a restaurant in Moscow, with a waitress moving from one side to the other.
Filter are a company who like to expose the workings of their stagecraft, so around Jon Bausor’s post-industrial design of retractable steel tubes and neon strip lights (with video screens from Douglas O’Connell), we can clearly see the technical equipment used to create the sound effects of Tim Phillips and the lighting effects of Jon Clark, while the actors sit just off-stage with clothes and props (or on-stage but in darkness) until required to perform. As always, the use of sound in particular becomes very much part of the action, with a high-pitched drone representing Kate’s tinnitus – which becomes louder in times of tension – while they use recorded voices and sonic motifs both to enhance the drama and to develop the relationships between characters.
As Kate, Katy Stephens makes the audience share the dilemma of choosing between two very different men and ways of life. Oliver Dimsdale gives Michael an arrogant persuasiveness, while Ferdy Roberts suggests Alexei’s disillusioned intensity. Patrick Romer performs a moving monologue as a Metropolitan policeman confessing a guilty secret and Richard Katz plays a nouveau riche Russian businessman with shady connections. There is also a touchingly non-realized relationship between Jonjo O’Neill’s inarticulate sound man and Mariah Gale’s homesick Australian neighbour.
There are moments amidst this where it’s not always clear what’s going on, but these don’t really detract from the overall effect. As a a company their work appeals to the imaginative senses; Silence is texturally rich and inventive, but also satisfying and compelling as a piece of storytelling.