Blackout. That’s an impressive enough beginning to any show at the Fringe, with South African State Theatre’s Assembly collaboration heralding one of the only theatres at the festival able to actually execute one. We then hear clangs, bangs, scrapes, drums. Hushed voices. In the stunning opening to
The staging of the play is remarkable.
The show never quite manages to replicate the dizzying high of its opening, but it comes close. We follow four gangsters on the run from the bank in real time as they try to avoid capture and paranoia grows within their ranks. The show lives off its atmosphere of oppression, the feeling that the noose is tightening and time is running out. The impressive pace of Silent Voice is sustained through its soundscape, as a drummer/percussionist at the back of the performance space adds pulsating rhythms to the chase.
The staging of the play is remarkable. The set, consisting of metal poles, barrels and tyres paints the picture of a decaying urban wasteland, one which services the thematic content perfectly. Calling the tech inventive would be an understatement. It’s so creative and, most importantly, successful at evoking the complicated effects necessitated by the plot - waterfalls, helicopters and so on - that there is the legitimate feeling the story could go anywhere, that the confines of theatre don’t apply. In the blocking, the show embraces its warped musicality and the cast move from scene to scene dance-like on the spot, as if running. That this is atmospheric and not incoherent given the nature of the piece is a feat.
The cast are uniformly good, although there are occasional weak moments from each member of the ensemble, certain lines that don’t convince. Their physicality is particularly strong and they are adept at performing the moments of violence contained in the script, eliciting wince after wince. As part of Assembly’s South African season, the script tackles important if familiar ground. Disillusionment with authority, apartheid and social inequality are approached from a new angle, plucked from inside the back stories of the four criminal protagonists. Whilst the philosophy is interesting, the story has some expected turns and towards the end dips its toes into melodrama.
The innovation of Silent Voice is what makes it so successful. There is a segment of the play in which the audience is taken hostage; whilst this led to the unintentionally hilarious moment when “Jane from Colchester” was interrogated, the production should be commended for trying to push the boundaries of theatrical experience. The way it utilises music, set and tech make it feel important, and there is no better praise than that.