The Human Voice, Ruth Wilson, 2022
Photo by Jan Versweyveld
  • Theatre, Drama

‘The Human Voice’ review

Despite Ruth Wilson’s spirited performance, Cocteau’s 1930 phone monologue feels dated and sexist


Time Out says

This glamorously staged misery monologue starring the wonderful Ruth Wilson got a full-throated standing ovation on opening night, but it left me totally cold. The play, written in 1930, is by Jean Cocteau: surrealist, Dada-ist and inspirational force in avant-garde Paris. So it’s a shame that it is boring, predictable and sexist, tapping into the oppressive conventions of that era and those cultural movements instead of their wild, boundary-ripping creativity. 

‘The Human Voice’ boils down to an hour or so of a woman, wrestling with crossed wires on the Paris telephone exchange in order to have one last conversation with the man who’s just dumped her. She pretends to be OK, she refuses to blame him for anything, she pretends to have lost his shoes while stroking and sniffing them like a newborn baby, she fesses up to a sleeping pill overdose and then finally – well I won’t spoil it, but no prizes for guessing the ending of a woman who just can’t live without her man, in a play which takes place on a balcony.

I have a massive crush on Ruth Wilson and would happily watch this twice Olivier Award-winning actress read a shopping list. But Ivo van Hove’s weird, monochrome production of a weird, monochrome play, cuts her off from the audience behind a massive glass picture window, literally boxing her in so it’s very tough to make an emotional connection. It looked like an incredible acting masterclass might have been happening behind the glass but I just wasn’t feeling any of it. And when someone’s breaking apart, suicidal and barking like a dog, you need to feel the feelings. Also - in prime stall seats - the angle to look at it was a bit odd, with the actress raised up and quite far back.

Van Hove has modernised the setting and I’m not sure why: it’s pretty odd splicing a feisty, noisy soundtrack including Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ onto a dialogue about where to keep the ashes of your burnt billet-doux. And the play’s comments – complaints really – about the newfangled technology of the telephone are fairly ho-hum, they don’t shed any light on our era’s convenient yet alienating dating and tech hook-ups, and give the impression of having been dashed off after a frustrating night trying to dump a lover. Wilson, Cocteau and Van Hove are all the elements you need for an incredibly classy night but for me it was an evening of crossed wires and bad connections.


£20-£95. Runs 1hr 15min
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