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Not Talking review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘a sensitive staging of Mike Bartlett’s first play’

Lawrence Walker in Not Talking at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli

Mike Bartlett’s Not Talking is built upon two convictions: that there are two sides to every story, and that it is always better to discuss trauma than keep it to ourselves.

Bartlett wrote Not Talking in 2005, but although it was adapted into an award-winning radio play in 2006, it’s never been seen on stage before. It’s a remarkable first work – four-handed drama that’s compelling and compassionate from first to last.

There are two couples – the elderly James and Lucy (David Horovitch and Kika Markham) and the younger Mark and Amanda (Lawrence Walker and Gemma Lawrence), who are soldiers at a gruelling boot camp. James has had an affair. Lucy knows about it. But no-one says anything. Amanda has been raped by an officer. Mark knows about it. But no-one says anything.

The hallmarks of Bartlett’s writing for stage and screen are discernible. Skilful, subtle dialogue. Fully realised characters. Fathoms-deep emotional intelligence. Difficult topics handled deftly.

James Hillier’s staging for his own company Defibrillator moves swiftly but sensitively. Amy Jane Cook’s set, furnished only by two wooden chairs and a piano, is lit in stylish squares by Zoe Spurr.

The four-strong cast are all terrific, particularly Horovitch, who exudes kindness as the conscientious James, and Walker, whose eyes brim with tears as he suppresses emotions as ordered. People often talk about the damage done by not talking. Bartlett makes you really feel it.

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Slick and sensitive staging of Mike Bartlett’s compassionate first play