A French peasant and his barely-grown niece, forced to billet a German officer in wartime, retaliate with silence.
The soldier, Werner, talks compulsively, his utterances sputtering like machine-gun fire into the softness of their mute resistance: he tells his reluctant hosts that we all invent and misconceive one another, so dialogue is never really communication anyway – hardly an observation designed to weaken their resolve.
Actually, the word he uses is 'annihilate': an evocative verb for a Nazi to deploy, in a play where words and silences, forced to share inadequate space, reverberate and damage.
On Ben Stones's sparse set – just a wooden ceiling and cunning sound and light – director Simon Evans deals deftly with the layered problems of Vercors's novella (published in 1942 as a double silent protest) that, converted to theatre (by Anthony Weigh), asks very different things of each of the trio of actors, all of them hard.
Leo Bill, as voluble, miserable Werner, is particularly good, but Simona Bitmaté adeptly conveys the mute fury of a girl silenced as a female and as a pianist, and Finbar Lynch, as her uncle, has a sly, suggestive smile: to Werner, he may be dumb as an animal (or an audience), but he talks to us, and in a villager's wilful silence we cannot help but hear the mute cooperation of France in 1940.
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I saw this at the weekend and it was quite stunning. It was amazingly refreshing, a completely different theatrical experience to anything I've seen in a long time. Go with a friend, because you will come out and want to discuss and debate at great length - the moments that are left up to the audience to dicipher prove for very entertaining discussion afterwards!