Brighton Fringe 2018
Husband and wife Benjamin and Shiva speak volumes in the silence about the fleeting nature of intimacy and the damning influences of war and suspicion.
There is nothing so painful as a secret hidden in plain sight, and The Silent House holds a mystery which unravels with the constancy and slowly deliberate nature of water through stone. From the Iran Saye Theatre, this sensory, psychological thriller redefines the form as it explores the destructive impact of words unspoken and the ruinous impotence of relentless tedium.
Benjamin and Shiva are trapped in a cycle of daily routine, their lives stalled as they await their citizenship. With minimal set and staging we bear witness to the monotony of life, the daily preparation of a meal, the silence between our two actors punctuated by a live soundscape created just out of sight of the audience, as we hear the rattling of pots and pans, tin plates and cutlery. In an attempt to escape the relentlessness of their state, Benjamin and Shiva both wear headphones throughout with Benjamin’s attached to another world where he lives out the strains of Wagner as his pregnant wife Shiva prepares the meal with headphone wire trailing unattached, a hint to her comparative freedom. Though they connect physically, a gentle hand across the back, a smile, a whispered word of encouragement to feel the baby move, every attempt of conversation and connection is thwarted.
Like the human incarnation of repetitive motion injury, The Silent House sees the slow, painful destruction of their relationship. Through the repetition of their daily routine we see the breakdown of their intimacy replaced with a quiet politeness which belies a fierce undercurrent of jealousy. Benjamin Esbati and Shiva Makinian imbue their characters with an intensity and subtlety which was breathtaking to watch, with nuanced movements which spoke volumes in the silence, a look, a fading smile, a tapping foot, the familiarity of a couple in close proximity, anticipating each other’s every movement, overreaction to a small infraction, and moments of weakness, revealed to the audience but concealed from each other.
The Silent House is as much a statement on the consequences of war as the dangers of a life unlived and potential unrealized, and the poisonous nature of suspicion. Through sublime physical theatre and aided by thoughtful symbolism the story unfolds in heartbreaking tedium, the effect unsettling and confused, seeing the breakdown of a relationship played out in intimate detail. The power and wounding external influence of war and materialism is beautifully, tragically realized as Benjamin and Shiva “consume” ever increasingly damaging items from nuts and bolts, to cell phones, and makeup, ending with a final meal of bullets, a world which we like Benjamin only experience second hand, a point of contention which creates the ever increasing tension, as Benjamin feels more out of control of his own life. As the piece continues, these influences invade and occupy the space, a visual mess of chaos strewn across the stage, overtaking the small refugee home in which Benjamin and Shiva must exist. The few fleeting moments of conversation warrant the removal of only a single earbud, a symbolic representation of miscommunication and assumption as the couple struggles to maintain the conversation, asking a question then replacing the earbud before each hears the answer, frustratingly refusing to communicate completely.
The pacing is slow but intentional and the emotional tension which these two actors create is a masterclass in theatrical body language and communication. The inability to verbally communicate or even to share a few moments of the strains of Wagner is beautifully juxtaposed against the near constant physical conversation between Benjamin and Shiva, as we see these two people occupying the same small space, acting out the same daily routine with little variation, and existing in two entirely different worlds. I was reminded of a modern day, war-time Death of a Salesman as Benjamin struggles to reconcile his continued emasculation of circumstance finally breaking and destroying all he has built.
My greatest regret is that I saw this show on the final performance because I felt there was so much to take in I’d have been happy for a second view. Gratifying, mystifying, mentally and emotionally exhausting, I left the theatre having witnessed an absolutely thrilling piece of theatre in the silence.