Theatre Review: Making Noise Quietly

Peter Gill's revival of Robert Holman's triptych at the Donmar Warehouse is unmissable.

Robert Holman wrote Making Noise Quietly in 1986, in a Britain still raw from the effects of the Falklands War. But the triptych of plays examines war in several forms, also exploring aspects of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

In Peter Gill's revival at the Donmar Warehouse, the subjects are the same, but the recurring themes in all three plays could equally be applied to the wars we are engaged in today - and remind us constantly of our present situation.
 
The first play, Being Friends, is set in 1944 and focuses on the conversation between two young men who meet on a field in Kent; the second, Lost, is set in 1982 and reveals a mother's grief as she comes to terms with the loss of her son in the Falklands; the third, Making Noise Quietly, concerns the meeting of a German Holocaust survivor, a severely autistic English child and his stepfather, who stumble across one another in the Black Forest in 1986. 
 
Each play deals with similar issues: desire, loss, rejection, anger, pain and forgiveness. But they are each plays in their own right and we cannot help but compare them.
 
Holman's triptych explores how war can bring together entirely different people who might not otherwise meet. In the fisrt play, Being Friends, Oliver (Jordan Dawes) is a farmer and former chemistry student. He exudes stereotypical masculinity: strong and silent; broad Manchester accent; at home with matters of facts and science. The artist Eric (Matthew Tennyson), meanwhile, is effeminate, highly cultured, and feeble as a result of a recent motor accident. The contrast between the two is humorous in its flagrancy; yet they are brought together through their disengagement with the war: Eric because of his accident, Oliver being a conscientious objector. 
 
In Being Friends, Gill's casting is flawless and it is the actors who fully realise Holman's characterisation. Dawes is broad-shouldered and handsome, spending most of his stage time lounging across the floor; meanwhile, Tennyson is pale, thin as a bird and nervously fiddling with his old-fashioned glasses. Their onstage chemistry, bringing the subtext bubbling to the surface, is so in tune that what could be a mundane conversation becomes an exciting, entertaining snapshot that is fraught with tension. 
 
In Holman's second installment, Lost, Susan Brown gives a breathtaking performance as May, who hasn't seen her son for five years. His friend and fellow army officer Geoffrey (John Hollingworth) pays her a visit, and the short play (in fact, shortest of the three) is an examination of her reaction. We learn a great deal about the relationship between May and her son Ian, but the play is essentially a monologue from May, with the odd comment from Geoffrey thrown in. We learn nothing about him: the only time he speaks is in relation to Ian and May, and for this reason the characterisation in Lost is not as well-rounded as it is in the other plays. 
 
The third play, Making Noise Quietly, examines pain, anger, and the ways we deal with them. Helene (Sara Kestelman) is a Holocaust survivor who is enjoying her later years painting in the Black Forest. Sam (played on the press night by Lewis Andrews) has stumbled across her and refuses to leave, followed by his stepfather Alan (Ben Batt). Sam is severely autistic and can't speak; he screams at anyone who gets in his way and, we learn, frequently wets the bed. He has driven Alan to the end of his tether, but they are not so different after all: both abandoned by Sam's mother and Alan's wife; both lonely; both bursting with anger at the world around them. While Sam cannot form any words, Alan has verbal diarrhoea, swearing with practically every sentence (a brilliant nod to the first play, Being Friends, in which both Oliver and Eric are aghast when referring to the use of the "f"-word). 
 
We learn that Helene has her own anger, too: at the concentration camp guards who took her childhood from her and killed her family. Alan doesn't know how to deal with this, the entire notion being completely removed from what he is used to. The situation asks fascinating questions about the measurement of suffering and what really warrants anger. And as with Eric and Oliver in the first play, Alan and Helene could not be more different, tied together by both frustration at Sam and the desire to help him. Kestelman's interpretation of Helene is remarkable: there is a scene that makes us question whether she is so disturbed that her morality has actually been compromised; the mood was so awkward that I wanted to jump out of my seat and either leave the auditorium or put a stop to the whole charade. But what is the good of theatre if not to provoke reactions like this?
 
Because of their complexity and potency on several levels, the first and third plays are far stronger than the second. But Holman's script is, as it always was, fantastic, and the cast bring it to life in a way that would be impossible to beat. Making Noise Quietly is a thrilling play.
Sara Kestelman and Lewis Andrews in Making Noise Quietly. Photo by Johan Persson
JAMIE KINGHAM/MILLENNIUM
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Snakebites and body parts

The city at the edge of an apocalypse: a love letter to Los Angeles.

I was emailing with Kenneth Anger, the film-maker, when the coyotes across the street in Griffith Park started howling.

That’s partially true.

I was emailing him to ask if he’d direct a music video for me. Maybe Lucifer Rising 2.0. Or anything.

Just him in the kitchen making tea, as recorded on his iPhone.

Kenneth Anger is alive and well in Santa Monica, so why not ask him to direct a video for me? Hopefully, he’ll respond. We’ve never met, so I sent an email to him, not with him. That’s the partial truth.

But the coyotes did start howling.

It’s the single best sound in Los Angeles, or any city. Is there another city where you can email an 89-year-old devotee of Aleister Crowley while listening to a few dozen coyotes screaming and howling and ripping the night into little pieces?

No. Just here. This oddness by the sea and an inch from a billion acres of Arrakis.

I never thought I’d end up living in Los Angeles, but I’ve ended up living in Los Angeles. This dirtiest, strangest paradise.

Yesterday I went hiking in a two-million-acre state park that’s 30 minutes from my house. A state park bigger than all of New York City. And it’s 30 minutes away. With no people. Just bears and pumas and coyotes and snakes.

And other things. Abandoned bridges. An observatory where Albert Einstein used to go to watch space.

What a strange city.

A perfect city. Perfect for humans at the edge of this strangely unfolding apocalypse. A gentle apocalypse with trade winds and Santa Ana winds and the biannual vicious storm that rips eucalyptus trees up by their roots.

What a strange city. And it’s my home.

Today I hiked to the back of the Hollywood sign. This was before Kenneth Anger and the coyotes.

The tourists were dropping like flies on the long, hot mountain trail, not aware that this isn’t a city with the safe European ­infrastructure that keeps them happy
and/or alive.

Every now and then, a tourist dies in the hills, bitten by a snake or lost at night. The emergency rooms are full of tourists with snakebites and heatstroke.

Where are the European safeguards?

Fuck us if we need safeguards. Go live in a place like this gentle wasteland where you’re not at the top of the food chain. If you’re not in danger of being eaten at some point in the day, you’re probably not breathing right.

I hope Kenneth Anger writes back.

 

22 May

I drove some friends around my neighbourhood. They want to live here. Why wouldn’t they? Pee-wee Herman and Thom Yorke live up the street.

David Fincher lives a block away. It’s blocks and blocks of jasmine-scented name-
dropping.

It’s warm in the winter and it’s weird all year round.

And there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright that looks like a lunatic Mayan spaceship.

And there go the coyotes again, howling like adorable delegates of death.

They’re so smart, I wish they would make me their king.

You hate Los Angeles? Who cares? You made a mistake, you judged it like you’d judge a city. Where’s the centre?

There’s no centre. You want a centre? The centre cannot hold. Slouching towards Bethlehem. Things fall apart.

Amazing how many titles can come from one poem. What’s a gyre?

Yeats and Kenneth Anger and Aleister Crowley. All these patterns.

Then we had brunch in my art deco pine-tree-themed restaurant, which used to sell cars and now sells organic white tea and things.

The centre cannot hold. I still have no idea what a gyre is.

Maybe something Irish or Celtic.

It’s nice that they asked me to write this journal.

Things fall apart.

So you hate Los Angeles? Ha. It still loves you, like the sandy golden retriever it is. Tell me again how you hate the city loved by David Lynch and where David Bowie made his best album? Listen to LA Woman by the Doors and watch Lynch’s Lost Highway and read some Joan Didion – and maybe for fun watch Nightcrawler – and tell me again how you hate LA.

I fucking love this sprawling inchoate pile of everything.

Even at its worst, it’s hiding something baffling or remarkable.

Ironic that the city of the notoriously ­vapid is the city of deceiving appearance.

After brunch, we went hiking.

Am I a cliché? Yes. I hike. I do yoga. I’m a vegan. I even meditate. As far as clichés go, I prefer this to the hungover, cynical, ruined, sad, grey cliché I was a decade ago.

“You’re not going to live for ever.”

Of course not.

But why not have a few bouncy decades that otherwise would’ve been spent in a hospital or trailing an oxygen tank through a damp supermarket?

 

24 May

A friend said: “The last time I had sex, it was warm and sunny.”

Well, that’s helpful.

October? June? February?

No kidding, the coyotes are howling again. I still love them. Have you ever heard a pack of howling coyotes?

Imagine a gaggle of drunk college girls who also happened to be canine demons. Screaming with blood on their teeth.

It’s such a beautiful sound but it also kind of makes you want to hide in a closet.

No Kenneth Anger.

Maybe I’m spam.

Vegan spam.

Come on, Kenneth, just make a video for me, OK?

I’ll take anything.

Even three minutes of a plant on a radiator.

I just received the hardcover copy of my autobiography, Porcelain. And, like anyone, I skimmed the pictures. I’m so classy, eating an old sandwich in my underpants.

A friend’s dad had got an advance copy and was reading it. I had to issue the cautious caveat: “Well, I hope he’s not too freaked out by me dancing in my own semen while surrounded by a roomful of cross-dressing Stevie Nicks-es.”

If I ever have kids, I might have one simple rule. Or a few simple rules.

Dear future children of mine:

1) Don’t vote Republican.

2) Don’t get facial tattoos.

3) Don’t read my memoir.

I don’t need my currently unmade children to be reading about their dear dad during his brief foray into the world of professional dominatrixing, even if it was brief.

The first poem I loved was by Yeats: “When You Are Old”. I sent it to my high-school non-girlfriend. The girl I longed for, unrequitedly. I’m guessing I’m not the first person to have sent “When You Are Old” to an unrequited love.

Today the sky was so strangely clear. I mean, the sky is almost always clear. We live in a desert. But today it felt strangely clear, like something was missing. The sun felt magnified.

And then, at dusk, I noticed the gold light slanting through some oak trees and hitting the green sides of the mountains (they were green as we actually had rain over the winter). The wild flowers catch the slanting gold light and you wonder, this is a city? What the fuck is this baffling place?

I add the “fuck” for street cred. Or trail cred, as I’m probably hiking. As I’m a cliché.

You hike, or I hike, in the middle of a city of almost 20 million people and you’re alone. Just the crows and the spiralling hawks and the slanting gold light touching the oak trees and the soon-to-go-away
wild flowers.

The end of the world just feels closer here, but it’s nice, somehow. Maybe the actual end of the world won’t be so nice but the temporal proximity can be OK. In the slanting gold light. You have to see it, the canyons in shadow and the tops of the hills in one last soft glow.

What a strange non-city.

 

25 May

They asked for only four journal entries, so here’s the last one.

And why is # a “hashtag”?

Hash? Like weird meat or weird marijuana? Tag, like the game?

At least “blog” has an etymology, even if, as a word, it sounds like a fat clog in a drain.

A friend who works in an emergency room had a patient delivered to her who had a croquet ball in his lower intestine. I guess there’s a lesson there: always have friends who work in emergency rooms, as they have the best stories.

No coyotes tonight. But there’s a long, lonesome, faraway train whistle or horn. Where?

Where in LA would there be a long, lonesome, faraway train whistle or horn?

It’s such a faraway sound. Lonesome hoboes watching the desert from an empty train car. Going where?

I met a woman recently who found human body parts in some bags while she
was hiking.

Technically, her dogs found them.

Then she found the dogs.

And then the sky was full of helicopters, as even in LA it’s unusual to have human hands and things left in bags near a hiking trail a few hundred yards from Brad Pitt’s house.

What is this place?

When I used to visit LA, I marvelled at the simple things, like gas stations and guest bedrooms.

I was a New Yorker.

And the gas stations took credit cards. At. The. Pumps.

What was this magic?

And people had Donald Judd beds in their living rooms, just slightly too small for actual sleeping – but, still, there’s your Donald Judd bed. In your living room at the top of the hill somewhere, with an ocean a dozen miles away but so clear you can see Catalina.

They drained the reservoir and now don’t know what to do with it.

Good old LA, confused by things like empty reservoirs in the middle of the city.

Maybe that’s where the lonesome train lives. And it only comes out at night, to make the sound of a lonesome train whistle, echoing from the empty concrete reservoir that’s left the city nonplussed.

“We’ve never had an empty reservoir in the city before.”

So . . . Do something great with it. I know, it’s a burden being given a huge gift of ­empty real estate in the middle of the city.

Tomorrow I’m meeting some more friends who’ve moved here from New York.

“We have a guest bedroom!” they crow.

A century ago, the Griffith Park planners planted redwoods across the street. And now the moon is waning but shining, far away but soft, through the redwoods.

No coyotes, but a waning moon through some towering redwoods is still really OK. As it’s a city that isn’t a city, and it’s my home.

Goodnight.

Moby’s memoir, “Porcelain”, is published by Faber & Faber

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad