For a play that explores silence, the Royal Shakespeare Company and theatre company Filter have created an awful lot of noise. Creaking floorboards echo around Hampstead theatre, whispers become niggling, unsettling sounds and the ringing of tinnitus becomes unbearable.
But at the heart of all this noise is a collection of people silenced both emotionally and politically, creating a lonesome heart to the production which screams louder than anything else.
In Russia a woman searches for a past love, leaving her documentary-maker husband back home in London listening to roll upon roll of tape, desperately waiting to hear a voice amongst the silence. His colleague meanwhile records the sounds of his isolated neighbour, her life in flux after swapping the quietness of the Australian countryside for the noise and chaos of London.
Flitting between times, locations and people, the completely devised Silence weaves together these sometimes complicated, sometimes beautifully simple narratives. What is always complicated however is the complex soundscape. Working with what must be enough cues to fill a bible, the actors create a backdrop of sound effects while Tim Philips, co-Artistic Director of Filter, performs a live soundtrack combining an emotive score with looping and other electronic musical wizardry.
With the Hampstead theatre stage stripped right back to its raw elements, watching Silence is a unique experience as you witness the actors creating everything seemingly from scratch. They make the sound, rearrange the constantly changing set and even help one another to change costumes. All of this is done as if it were a choreographed dance and with less talented actors they would be in serious danger of distracting the audience away from the story itself.
However, with some of the most talented members of the RSC ensemble on stage, the actors are never outshone by the technical magic and stylised theatrics. Katy Stephens as a woman sent crazy by tinnitus is gripping and oozes confidence, while Mariah Gale and Christine Entwisle lend the production emotional punch with their portrayals of people misplaced and heartbreakingly vulnerable.