Guest Blog: Not Talking by Mike Bartlett @ Arcola Theatre


Not Talking @Arcola, London

“Not Talking” by Mike Bartlett

Arcola Theatre

April 25th – June 2nd 2018

Not Talking is a Co Production between The Arcola and Defibrillator Theatre

Simon Slater – Composer & Sound Designer

May 23rd 2018

James Hillier the director of Not Talking and I had worked together a couple of times in the theatre-writing
Simon Slater

music for 2 productions James was involved in-one as an actor and the other as a producer. So getting a phone call from James about Not Talking was very welcome. And the journey began. As a composer and sound designer there are always many parts to the job and this project certainly certainly has that. I guess it involves a knowledge and a feel for classical music, contemporary sounds, dealing with live playing, composition to match that world and most exciting of all a beautiful and emotionally delicate script. The fact that Mike Bartlett’s script was originally a radio play means that instantly this is going to be about listening-about telling a story through sound as much as anything else.Its called Not Talking for goodness sake.

These were all good signs for me as a composer.Its funny and I have to say this now as it is something I sort of own up to. My work in the theatre has been 2 things -an actor (and still am) and a composer. So when I see on the contract Composer and sound designer -the last two words always slightly give me a bit of a palpitation! I have worked with brilliant sound designers who are not composers-what I am trying to say is I am a composer first, sound designer second but the great thing about Mike’s script is that it can be done musically-or should I say poetically,very little naturalism or should I say sound fx! Hurrah -no door bells and mobile phones. Basically an emotional script ,a simple and elegant set from Amy Jane Cook, a director I knew and liked and at the centre of it all a piano on stage, where the first thing we hear is a Chopin piano piece. Double Hurrah!
This was a staged premiere by a writer who I had worked with -Mike had written Chariots of Fire which I was in at Hampstead theatre and the West End -whose writing drips in humanity and care.
Kika Markham during rehearsals

We picked Chopin’s Raindrops piano Prelude. A well known piece -again delicate and exquisite that immediately pulls at the heart and this is the piece that Kika Markham and Gemma Lawrence in the cast had to play live. Quite an ask. So the first day or two of rehearsals were spent feeling our way into this musical masterpiece. They both did brilliantly. I am not sure either actress had played live in front of an audience. For an actor who has never done it before it is like that exercise where you have to pat your head with one hand and at the same time rub your tummy. Its all wrong and the different sides of the brain. I have played and acted at the same time my entire career-my first job being Safety Sid’s Road Safety show, touring schools in Worcestershire and Shropshire. Safety Sid sang playing the guitar and talked about the Green Cross Code. I might add that the script was NOT  by Mike Bartlett. I digress…

So what could be so hard about a Chopin Prelude-in the warm and rich key of D flat! I’ll  tell you what… you see every single note by Chopin is perfect and where it should be and fits the play and most importantly the emotional journey of Kika and Gemma’s characters. They did brilliantly and of course it works a treat.
Gemma Lawrence
The rest of my process was writing themes around this beautiful piece. I am not Chopin but I recorded me playing it and really through spare improvisation ended up with a score that is in D flat and meanders and nudges its way around the scenes and the sense of loss and love that pervades Mike’s play. I used a particular piano sample I like and mixed so you hear a lot of the wood, reverb and resonance-even pedal noises. It has an eerie but present feel -matching the live piano but takes us, well for me into the world of memory both painful and beautiful as we have these time switches in the play, and where the characters don’t actually address each other as the time is out of sync.
I remember my mother alone playing one piece – I think she made it up but it was a slow vamped, romantic tune. It was in C minor. (another warm and beautiful key-like D flat lots of black notes!) She played it over and over. I was 7. My father had left her. This too was Lucy’s story in Not Talking and how she uses the piano to get back her husband.
Kika Markham
Okay enough sadness. This was a great team-lovely cast, Amy’s design,Zoe’s beautiful lighting, James’ caring direction and Mike’s poetry. What I would call a nice booking.
And just in case you think the process was an emotional indulgent swamp. My score also used a very aggressive track by Nine Inch Nails (ok James Hillier chose that -and he is the director) and there is a whole sequence of dance electronica music  which I composed just to show you I am down with the kids…
Go and see it

Simon Slater – Composer & Sound Designer

Zoe Spurr – Lighting Designer

May 8th 2018

Zoe Spurr – Lighting Designer

‘Not Talking’ – A Lighting Designers Perspective

I was recommended to the director, James, by another set designer with whom he had previously worked, then with the view to work together on ‘Not Talking’ we met, discussed the script and the progress of the production so far, and his thoughts and hopes for what the production could become. Before this initial meeting, I had read the script, so had established my own early feelings and thoughts on the text.  It’s a story of how we express ourselves and our feelings, and how this affects different generations, full of sensitivity and heartbreak, as well as moments of love and support for fellow humans, whether they’re family or not.

At our meeting, James was able to share his ideas for the visual of the piece and together we created some early images of what the lighting for the piece might become. We then spoke about the rest of the creative team, the ongoing process of casting the show, and dates for design meetings. Generally, lighting ideas are further established once the set design is in place, this’ll dictate the overall visual, and I’ll support and enhance this with lighting.

Not Talking Set by Amy Jane Cook, Lighting by Zoe Spurr

At our White Card Model Box meeting, we sat down with Amy Cook (designer), production manager (Scott) and technical manager at the Arcola (Geoff). ‘Zoe, it’ll be lighting heavy’ – they said, but I’m always up for a challenge, so was happy to work with and follow Amy’s design ideas of how to transform the space with light. We spoke a lot about how light can open and close down the space at certain moments, we were interested in creating small spaces outlined and confined by light, as well as growing the performance space, and audience space at times to reverse the visual, and feel of intimate lighting states.

Lawrence Walker

With these white card ideas in our heads, we were all able to go away and think about how best to create this world, we had our aims- so the next thing is to make it achievable in the space, along with the word ‘budget’ looming above us. However Scott and Geoff are geniuses of technical theatre, and with their advice and experience we felt sure we could transform our visions into reality!

After presenting the design to the cast and team at the Arcola, and hearing the cast read the script together, my next step was to design the lighting rig with our aesthetics in mind, before spending time in the space with James and the cast, and reacting to the movement and direction in the rehearsal room. The weeks in the lead up to a production are always exciting, seeing the growth of the piece in the rehearsal room, preparing to be in the performance space, working with the sound designer to listen to the potential soundscape for the production, and finding the right team of electricians to rig and build the lighting design in the space. Always lots to do, but preparation is key!

David Horovitch, Gemma Lawrence, Lawrence Walker

From start to finish, there will be ongoing conversations with the director, as well as collaborating with the creative team, and technical team. Through the 4 weeks of rehearsal, I’ll re-read the script to keep the writing fresh in my mind, attend rehearsals and discover new detail in the text, and also update the lighting plan in response to this. Going into technical rehearsals, I always have the initial, early ideas in mind that the director and I discussed all those weeks, sometimes months ago, it’s important to remember why we are involved and what are aim is. These ideas are useful to keep at the forefront when working in the space. Technical rehearsals are very demanding, there is a lot to do in a short space of time, but keeping our goal in mind is important, and asking questions about what we are trying to achieve keeps us on track- everyone is welcome to an opinion, and to collaborate, our aim is to support the actors and text with lighting, sound, and design, to ensure we have a cohesive production which highlights and celebrates our collaboration. We will watch the dress rehearsal, previews, learn from them and continue to work on the production, so by the time it presses and opens, our creative vision has been achieved onstage, and we are all proud to have been part of it!

Gemma Lawrence & David Horovitch

Zoe Spurr – Light Designer

Stage Manager – Rachel Graham

April 24th 2018

Rachel Graham – Stage Manager

The person sat in the back corner of the theatre, dressed in black and surrounded by equipment … that’s me! I’m Rachel Graham, the Deputy Stage Manager of Not Talking.

Since I graduated in 2016 I’ve worked in a number of fringe theatres all over London. The Arcola theatre was on my bucket list as a theatre I would love to work in – so I was incredibly fortunate when a fellow Stage Manager recommended me for this production.

I was drawn to the piece mainly because of my love of new work. The fact that it was a radio play being transferred to the stage for the first time, meant I knew it was going to bring a new set of challenges in the rehearsal room. When I heard that I’d be working with people, such as Mike Bartlett and James Hillier, I knew it was going to be an intense and yet amazing process seeing all these creative minds work together. After all any production is nothing without the team who bring it to life.

‘Not Talking’ call sheet

My production process

I am the only member of the technical team who is in every day from the 1st day of rehearsals to the final performance. This is exciting as I get to see how the show develops from the first read through to the final closing show


Throughout rehearsals I create a lot of paperwork! Every day I send a call out so the actors and creative team know what the plan is the next day. At the end of every day I send out rehearsal notes to the creative team; this means that even though they are not in the room every day they have an understanding of what we have done and any questions that arose for them. I also create paperwork that will help with the running of rehearsals and the such as character/scene breakdown which shows us which characters are in which scene – this helps with the organisation of calls with other required stuff such as costume fittings or any media interviews

Character/Scene breakdown

The other main part of my role in rehearsals is to mark down the blocking in the script otherwise known as the “Book” or “Bible”. The blocking is any move that the actors make during the show. An accurate record has to be made as a reminder in future rehearsals and on larger shows it is used to run understudy rehearsals.

Most stage managers have a kit that holds everything they could possibly need; the main item is pencils and pens which normally get stolen by the end of the show! However, it also holds all your normal stationary items such as highlighters, erasers, ruler, hole punch etc. I also carry around some general essentials like body spray and a lighter as you never know when they may be useful. I also have some props from other shows just as memorabilia such as a fake Charizard Shiny which is now almost a good luck charm for me!

SM Tool Kit
Work Station



Remember the “Bible” I mentioned before – this has another important function during performances. This is where I write in all the cues for the show – entrances, lighting, sound etc. I will mark in the text when they need to happen and then note down what it is and what it does. This means that the performance stays consistent throughout the 6-week run. In my little booth, I have a lighting desk where I run the lighting cues off, a computer which I will run the sound cues off and a cue light box which I use to let the actors know when it is time to come onstage.  In other shows, there can be a lighting or sound operator however for this production I do it all myself working off the script I mark up during technical rehearsal.

Throughout the show run I will prepare the stage before each performance. This is a fairly simple show so my main responsibilities will be to make sure everything works and the stage is safe for the actors each night.

So there you go – a brief run-down of my process for the show. We’re only in rehearsals still and I’m already so excited to see it in front of an audience! If you come see it, don’t be afraid to come say hi to me in the booth and you’ll often find me in the bar afterwards!

Rachel Graham – Stage Manager

Movement Director – Jack Murphy 

April 17th 2018

What drew me to the project:

The passion and clarity of James Hillier. When I met with him for the first time he sold me the project

Movement Director, Jack Murphy with Gemma Lawrence & Lawrence Walker

within a matter of minutes. I got the feeling it was going to be collaborative and that I would not be working in a vacuum. I‘m a great fan of the work of Mike Bartlett and to be given the opportunity to create the movement on a play of his that has never been staged before is thrilling for me. Also, to work, I have to work, I have to move, I have to be in the rehearsal room with actors: grappling with ideas that work and those that don’t – it’s when I feel I have a voice in theatre, it’s when I feel I’m breathing and that my twist is still vital!

My process:

Is very similar to any other creative team member: Prior to the rehearsals, read the play, several times so that it sinks in to my imagination so that I start to dream it ( I see a play), discuss these ideas with the director and then in rehearsals to physically release the actors so that they can explore the corporate potential of any given moment. To find a style that supports the vision of the director but stays connected to the text, ironically – our piece is all about disconnection!

Jack Murphy, Movement Director

I worked at The Arcola on Ghost in a Perfect Place and had such a wonderful experience I was very keen to come and work here again.

Jack Murphy, Movement Director

Performance Designer – Amy Jane Cook 

April 11th 2018

Not Talking Model box showing

I was asked to be a part of the production by the director James Hillier. James and I have worked together before, most recently on a production of Insignificance in New York. I really love James’ taste in plays and so was very excited to read Not Talking.

I loved the idea that this piece had never been performed before on stage and that we had the chance to give it its first life.

When you approach a play from this perspective, you are freed from the burdens of comparison and can be totally instinctual in your response.

James and I worked together on the design concept. We wanted to create a space where the characters existed in close proximity and yet simultaneously in total isolation. The piece is a memory play and therefore has no fixed location point. The design needed to reflect this and created a liminal environment, where the audience could go on a journey with each character. Lighting plays a key role in this, and I am very excited to see how the mechanics of the design play out once we get the set into the space.

Not Talking Costume plan for Kika Markham
Not Talking Costume plan for David Horovitch










Amy Jane Cook, Set and Costume design

The beginning of a new production

April 3rd 2018

Just over one week ago a rehearsal room at The Arcola Theatre in Dalston, East London began to fill with new faces, faces that were about to go on a 3 month journey together. A group of people that had mostly, never met before.

It’s always a nerve raking moment, as this is after all our first day in a new job, a job we love and are keen to be our best at.

These faces were actors, designers, directors, producers and of course, the author of the piece, who in this case is Mike Bartlett, probably better know for King Charles III and TV’s Doctor Foster.

“Not Talking” is Mike’s first ever play, written for Radio back in 2005. It’s a gripping and lyrical drama about relationships where it has become impossible to talk. A system that protects abuse of power. How do you speak out?

James Hillier (director), Mike Bartlett (author)

 We all know how the first week goes, a meet and greet, a read through of the play and time to get to grips with the design and of course the text. But no matter how often we have entered these rooms or the longevity of our career, for me at least, it is the most exhilarating part of the process. Putting names to faces, in this case some very famous names to faces and getting down to the bones of a piece of work that you have been reading over, on your own in the kitchen, for weeks now and bringing it to life… putting it on it’s feet.

The Cast – Gemma Lawrence, David Horovitch, Kika Markham, Lawrence Walker



The cast and company










We have had a wonderful start to our rehearsal period. We have already been visited by our movement director, Jack Murphy and Simon Slater, our Composer/Sound Designer. This gave us a real treat to hear two of the cast members playing Chopin, as they will be for our audience.

Enough of me now, I will leave it to the skilled craftsmen and women we have on our team to share with you their own views on the production during the forthcoming weeks of our blog. We’re very much looking forward to sharing our journey with you.

Angela Bull – Epsilon Productions, Associate Producer

Over the next 8 weeks the cast and creative team of Mike Bartlett’s Not Talking aim to share with you their views and thoughts on this gripping play, how they got involved and the process they have taken within the roles they each play in the production.


All rights on copy and images reserved to the Not Talking production team only