Writer: Robert Holman, Nick Drake and Mark Rosenblatt
Director: Dominic Dromgoole
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Theatre has long overlapped with film, benefiting from the application of cinematic techniques on stage thanks to the pioneering work of companies like Complicitéand renowned directors including Ivo Van Hove and Robert Icke, while actors have always moved back and forth with ease between the two. But recently a number of stage directors have made tentative steps into the screen directing with debut features from Dominic Cooke (Follies)and now Dominic Dromgoole, former Artistic Director of The Globe and the architect of the recent Wilde Season in the West End.
His first project is a dramatization of Robert Holman’s playMaking Noise Quietly, an anthology of three thematically connected conversations examining the impact of war on the home front across the twentieth century as pairs of strangers are drawn together and briefly influence each other’s lives. These three chapters Being Friendsset in Kent in 1944, Lostin a living room in Redcar in1982 and the titular Making Noise Quietlyset in the Black Forest in 1996, are well managed by Dromgoole, shaking off their static theatrical origins and the twee Britishness of period drama to create a sense of the lives beyond these small vignettes.
In the first scenario Oliver, a Mancunian conscious objector working as a farmhand is treated with disdain by the local community until he meets Eric an openly gay local artist who shares his picnic lunch. As two outsiders, they strike-up an instant and confiding friendship in a way that feels credible, with conversation ranging from Oliver’s Quaker beliefs and partial chemistry degree interrupted by war to Eric’s various forms of artistic expression including drawing and novel-writing, and “family life” with his lover in Tunbridge Wells.
By keeping the men walking, Dromgoole smartly shakes off the dramatic origins of the piece, using quick cuts between perspectives and locations to imply the passing of time and perhaps conversation the audience isn’t privy to. Matthew Tennyson’s Eric is unapologetically himself, whether rebuffing the enquiries of the local vicar about a missing tortoise or discussing his former lovers with the man he’s just met. Billed as his screen debut, regular theatregoers will already be familiar with Luke Thompson’s excellent stage work including Laertes to Andrew Scott’s Hamlet and Edgar to Ian McKellen’s King Lear during its West End run. So good at conveying the interior life of his creations, Thompson has a natural presence on screen and his Oliver has an outward calm that belies an interior trauma and growing realignment of his choices about the war expressed through barely perceptible facial flickers and subtle shaking of the hands. There is also an essential loneliness that makes the connection with Eric both so rapid and so important in a section that could be a much longer piece in its own right.
Authentically filmed in Redcar and confined to a single front room Lostgallops forward to 1982 in the midst of the Falkland’s War where Barbara Marten’s May learns from a fellow officer that her errant son Ian has been killed in action fighting for the Royal Navy. It’s an interesting proposition that quickly neutralises cliched ideas of the glorious dead by focusing on Ian’s separation from his family, while May’s performance brings out her bitterness and anger towards him as a first response while the news of his death slowly affects her more deeply as the shock subsides.
Another well-regarded theatre star Geoffrey Streatfeild (currently starring in Blithe Spiritat the Theatre Royal Bath) plays Ian’s friend Geoffrey whose conversation with May reveals his own grief and family difficulties. Like Thompson, Streatfeild is so good at conveying a character’s psychology and his Geoffrey is etched in pain and struggle which this short piece has little time to explore. Dromgoole circles the camera slowly around the conversation to emphasise the changing perspectives before retracing its path, adding a more dynamic feel to what could have been a stationary duologue.
The final scenario is far less satisfying despite excellent performances from Deborah Findlay (Escaped Aloneand The Children at the Royal Court) as an amateur landscape painter living in the Black Forest who comes across a former British soldier Trystan Gravelle and his stepson. She rather inexplicably asks them to stay and what follows focuses on the child’s inability to speak and forms of parental control. What we learn about the protagonists is far less convincing as a result of war as the earlier duologues while their interaction with one another seems unlikely and remarkably inconclusive.
Dromgoole plays the story as written by Holman for the stage, keeping the stories separate and neither editing them for pacing and to forge a clearer connection, or cutting between them to increase the drama. And while these decisions are advantageous, they also place a stranglehold on the overall growth of the film. The first scenario feels by far the strongest – as it did on stage – while the second boasts some emotionally engaging performances but leaving them behind the film noticeably feels unwieldly in its final portion, where too many competing strands distract from the overall effect.
Holman worked on the screenplay with Nick Drake and Mark Rosenblatt, but the stagey dialogue is a little sticky and slightly unconvincing as normal conversation. There are overarching themes about the long-term effects of war and trauma on individuals, the comfort of the British countryside and coastal landscape as well as our ability to be emotionally honest with strangers but not with our own families, yet the three sections never fully utilise the fluidity of filmic techniques to come together clearly. A solid debut from Dromgoole but despite the fine performances and desire to know more about these characters, the cumulative emotional effect of Making Noise Quietlyis muffled.
Release Date: 19 July 2019 | Image: Contributed