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Review: Play/Silence @ Porter's

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Insomnia double bill - Play/Silence

The Other Room @ Porter's Bar, Cardiff

Tuesday 26th January 2016

The cosy groovy back-room-cinema-theatre known as The Other Room in Cardiff's Porter's Bar has seen its fair share of creative zeal in its short opening period. 

It continues to grow in stature and reverie as it brings in the new year of 2016 with a spring season called Insomnia

A difficult subject to subject oneself to in these dark and cold evenings, but somewhat welcomed in the warmth and enjoyable atmosphere of Porter's. These two plays sing the ideas of insomnia with their abstract and deep retelling of adultery and pained relationships; fuel for Insomnia.

A double bill of plays by two 20th century playwright giants are on offer to open the season, running from 19th January to 5th February. Samuel Beckett was an Irish playwright and novelist, often regarded as avant-garde in his work, and his play opens the double bill, conveniently titled Play.


Ushered into the Other Room, swirling with a dry iced haze and low oscillating droning through the PA. The drone starts to build to a crescendo as the show begins, and we are greeted with what appear to be three urns with disembodied heads protruding out of the tops. The play involves the three heads, two women and one man, relaying their own experience of an affair between them. 

The lighting is very concise, swivelling and pointing to each head in turn as they deliver their dialogue, which is delivered at a rapid pace seemingly without cause to breathe. With this direction, the play becomes confrontational as the details of the man's affair with the woman to his right is mulled over with little emotional regard from all of the players; just seems to be a clinical testimony.

The staging and direction gives a foreboding sense of claustrophobia as the bodies are trapped in their urns throughout, and challenges the viewer as the play seems to repeat halfway through, almost playing with us to see if we can recall as well as the players the entirety of the script. There is something rather musical about this play; it follows in a similar structure to musical pieces, with its recurring motifs, choral line delivery and repetition. It's very lyrical, superbly lit (although the incessant clicking of the laptop light cues is a major distraction) and unsurprisingly very abstract, as I'm sure Beckett imagined when conceiving the play. Director Kate Wasserberg did a wonderful job of making something accessible out of a difficult play, and the players should be commended for their powers of recall and breathless delivery.


Silence follows, with more open staging as the audience return from the interval to the players sitting at the edge of the stage and stand around the pull-zoom inspired set.

Harold Pinter is the English playwright behind this play, and his proclivity for silence itself has often been cited by his contemporaries and peers. As this play starts, the players slowly rise and move around seemingly in slow motion. The lights come up and a story of want and desire is dispensed through fragmented recollections from the three players, this time one woman and two men, the latter of which have been involved with the former at different points and vie for her attention again as she struggles to understand what she wants herself. Each dialogue is delivered to the audience with endearing conviction, which slowly moves to confusion and anger as the play progresses. Pinter's use of silence is prevalent throughout; skipped heartbeats and moments of realisation are drowned in wordless replies and hard stares.

The players pace back and forth in the set, using the lighting and staging to full effect, relaying their thoughts and feelings. The feelings of want are broken down with ideas of wasted time, and each character is clearly portrayed as their own conscious being, like they are speaking from a pained area of their memory; over-thinking and overbearing dialogue that we can all relate to, and we know doesn't help. Exactly the kind of thought processing that feeds insomnia. Another superbly directed play, this time by Titus Halder who makes good use of stage design and lighting, and delivers such a wonderfully nuanced aural ambience that we barely notice but are still moved by it. The players portray a wonderful conviction, and it is through these characters being slightly unpleasant and frustratingly wrapped up in their own problems that we can relate.


To compare the two plays would be the wrong conclusion to the double bill. They both stand out on their own merits in their own idiosyncratic delivery, and the collection of the ideas portrayed in both plays certainly lend themselves to the Insomnia season. Beckett's Play delivers that fast, almost unintelligible train of thought that hammers your mind when you're trying to relax and plagues your subconscious when you're lucky enough to sleep; Pinter's Silence picks on that part where you're suddenly aware of the pervasive nothingness, and bring memories back to the forefront of your mind that unsettle the sleep. Both challenging plays, both very evocative in their symbolism and both wonderfully directed and executed.

Play/Silence is at The Other Room, Porter's till Friday 5th February 2016

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