Review – Making Noise Quietly – Donmar Warehouse

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This year marked a big change at the Donmar, as long-time director Michael Grandage departed to make room for Josie Rourke. This kind of change wouldn’t normally be something I noticed or cared about, only since I moved to London The Donmar has become the theater to attend, both for outstanding productions and great prices. Tickets became hard to get as the Donmar did more and more celebrity casting – Ewan Macgregor one year, Rachel Weisz another – not to mention a whole season at Wyndham’s with big-name movie actors that, more and more, made getting affordable tickets – or any tickets at all – near impossible. Yippee hooray for all of the Oliviers Grandage pulled … but as time wore on I found myself drifting away from the Donmar. What was the point of getting excited about something you could never see? It all seemed to be getting rather formulaic, anyway, gloomy realism with sets that seemed to be getting a lot of reuse (for the shows I did manage to get into), you know, sour grapes mutter mutter.

So now Rourke has taken over and I’ve come back, finding it easier to get tickets and wondering where The Donmar will go. The Recruiting Officer seemed right out of the Grandage hat (if more cheery than usual), but Making Noise Quietly was quite different: a series of short plays, something I hadn’t seen in the last 5 years (though I could have missed it if it did happen). I arrived with my usual lack of preconceptions, and this is what I saw.

First, there is “Being Friends,” a play about two young men, strangers, meeting in the English countryside during World War II. One (Matthew Tennyson) is gay and physically broken; the other (Jordan Dawes) is a conscientious objector (Quaker) and physically quite fine. They talk about their lives while sharing a picnic; at the end, they strip off and sunbathe. The straight boy is flirted at terribly; in return he flirts tentatively with the other young man. In essence, what happens is the wonderful nothingness of them both accepting each other; even the bomb that exploded didn’t really create as much tension as waiting to see if either would make a pass at the other. Ultimately: it’s all a damp squib.

Second is “Lost,” a mini-play about a Naval officer coming to a woman’s house during the Falkland Islands War to tell her of her son’s death (and a few other secrets). There’s a question as to why the dead man was so estranged from his parents that I felt was never really answered (although my companion said if you were familiar with English style social climbing it was all right there in front of you): but I found it a complete mystery and not really emotionally affecting. Two people conspire together to not feel anything. It’s not my idea of a satisfying play.

And, well, there we were at the interval. I was actively bored. Nothing had really happened; no one had had any kind of self-revelation. Should I leave? I was tempted, but we were promised sweet release at 9:30, so I soldiered back on in to get through the last playlet of the night. And I’m glad I did, because the eponymous final play was very fine: a tale of a soldier (Ben Batt) trying to deal with his autistic son (actor unknown) with the help of an elderly German woman (Sara Kestelman). Here we had three strong performances that caused me to lose the distance between myself and the stage: I was no longer watching actors go through a scene, but people struggling with a problem, and each other. Watching Frau Ensslin struggle to get the young boy to respond to her was completely compelling; seeing her struggle with the boy’s violent father was nearly so. I really cared about her success with both of them by the end of the night, and that’s quite an accomplishment given where I was before the interval.

So: a weak night overall, with the best show last. I got my ten quid worth, to be sure, but I can’t really recommend this as a good way to spend two hours. We’ll see how the next show goes; but this, based on the number of tickets still available for it, does not seem to be as well received as its predecessors.

(This review is for a performance that took place on April 26th, 2012. It continues through May 26th.)

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3 Responses to “Review – Making Noise Quietly – Donmar Warehouse”

  1. Rev Stan Says:

    I agree, found it one of the more dull evenings I’ve had at the theatre in a long while. Got a mailer through from the Donmar today saying tickets were still available. It also showcased the clutch of four star reviews it’s been given so I don’t know what the critics are watching, although one of them was from the Daily Express (probably trying to appear cultural).

  2. calmnsense Says:

    You were right about the first two – and far too generous with the last one…sorry to say but none of these characters was worth our attention or interest on the night. The flaw in the last play was the simplistic over-reliance of attempting crass and shock with violence and crude language. It felt completely forced and maybe worked in 1986 (or whenever this was first staged) but really did nothing for/to us in 2012. Feral screams of the otherwise-mute boy aside (and boy, could we relate to him!!), this was really as dull and one-dimensional as the other two plays. But your review is far more accurate than any of the major publications I’ve read, so hats off to you for some honesty!

    Also, one stinker every ten years still gives the Donmar by far the best track record in London (the Royal Court being a close second). Here’s betting the next production will be another tour-de-force…

    • blue frog Says:

      In reply to calmnsense, I feel I have to say of the Donmar – really? Only “one stinker every ten years?” You clearly didn’t see Serenading Louie only a couple of years ago…

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