The Human Ear is a show that is fragmented so that it can show us what is really important when memory and grief are put to one side.
This Paines Plough production makes use of Alexandra Wood's fractured, splintered script, that jumps from present into past, from character to character, from tone to tone and back again in an instant. Each leap is accompanied by a soft change in lighting and a faint noise that disrupts the background music, as if we've changed the channel and are watching something slightly different but almost the same. The effect is profound - it's difficult not to watch the stage obsessively.
Nuggets of information about Lucy and Jason's relationship, both in the present day (when they meet again after 10 years) and in their tumultuous past, are given to us piecemeal. By doing so, we hunger for the next one that will allow us to piece together a more complete story.
This structure allows the script to look at the many sides of sibling relationships over the course of 70 minutes. In the same scene, moment by moment, either sibling can be on the defensive or on the attack, apologetic or apoplectic. They plead with each other for reassurance and unconditional love while also pushing each other away and blaming each other for things they can't possibly be responsible for. Through other character's interactions with Lucy, the show examines the fact that we can insult our siblings all we like, but we will not stand someone else doing so. It's all very accurate.
The two performers, Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis, with direction from George Perrin, produce something very special here. This team has managed to keep the deliberately fractured narrative ultimately clear as well as create something you can't tear your eyes from. Salis has to switch from Jason to Ed (Lucy's boyfriend and family liaison officer) frequently, often midline, and both he and Reese-Williams have to flashback in the middle of sentences, often into words or phrases that are of a completely different mood. It's stunning to watch and the sincerity and truthfulness with which they play every single moment is what makes their performance so watchable. They build steadily and naturally to fantastic dramatic heights and lows, and give us genuine insight into a relationship that is so hard to understand.
Ultimately, the production asks us questions about what the mind will do when confronted with grief. How much can we remember, and how accurately? Why do some things stay with us while others are forgotten? The Human Ear is a show that is fragmented so that it can show us what is really important when memory and grief are put to one side.