I annihilate you and me also.
A Nazi officer is billeted at the seaside home of a man and his niece in occupied France. The former overcomes the awkwardness of his position with constant chatter in a series of monologues delivered to his stoney-faced hosts, who respond with the only weapon in their arsenal – total silence.
Director Simon Evans has made a brave choice with this play, because there’s barely any interaction between the characters (the old man and his niece remain almost motionless throughout, with their backs to the audience) and arguably not much happens.
Leo Brill gives a strong performance, charting Nazi occupier Werner’s progression from nervous occupier (full of boasts and fake laughter), through trying to endear himself to his hosts (he claims to be hypnotised and mesmerised by France and the sea, and recounts with joy his visits to Paris), to finally being disgusted by the German position (‘people should just become one’). Brill lets the audience share in the tension and strain that take their toll on Werner as he desperately tries to forge some connection with his statue-like hosts, who begin to feel like his captors even though the reverse is true.
I was disappointed by Finbar Lynch, usually so commanding an actor: while Brill manages to involve the audience and sweep us up in his emotions, Lynch’s monologues fall flat and are forgettable. Lynch also paled in comparison to the power of Simona Bitmaté’s performance. Bitmaté plays the niece – a completely silent role except for one devastating word (‘I’) in the closing stages – and with each movement of her eyes, every turn of her head, and the stiffness and stillness of her body, she manages to convey the girl’s initial horror, then anger and frustration, and finally disgust when she realises that she’s formed a connection with a Nazi against her will.
The Silence of the Sea is by no means an enjoyable play, nor is it an easy one. Even at just ninety minutes with no interval it feels interminably long, though arguably we are sharing the characters’ sense of being trapped against their will. Brill and Bitmaté’s performances are worth watching, and Gregory Clarke’s brilliant sound effects (slamming doors, an ominous piano, creaking footsteps overhead, and the ebb and flow of the sea) also stand out, but I couldn’t help feeling relieved to leave the theatre, as though I’d just been released from hell.