The pity of war brutally, but brilliantly laid bare
The Silence, Loft Studio, Leamington, until October 20
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.