Theatre in Wales

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The Threat of Silence- Jill Greenhalgh , Theatr Mwldan , September-11-10
The Best of Touring Theatre by The Threat of Silence- Jill Greenhalgh Jill Greenhalgh has created a tripartite stage for “the Threat of Silence.” She begins as she continues. Nicola Thomas enters, moves to stage right, sits unhurriedly and with a studied exactness puts on her glasses. Her 1801 cello begins its first notes on a journey through Bach, Tavener, Bartok and music of her and Tony Hinnigan’s composition. Stage left Eddie Ladd’s head moves near imperceptibly to the first music.

In between the two performers is video artist Zoe Christiansen’s double screen. The triple structure melds sound, image and movement. But over its sixty-five minute length these three elements change. Eddie Ladd sings, hauntingly, verses in part from Rilke’s “Duino Elegies.” (Although “O engyl drylliedig y ddaear” looks more a variation on Rilke than the poet himself.)

Towards the close Meg Brookes joins for a duet on cello and Eddie Ladd sits motionless and attentive. Music itself can only exist as the result of motion. The video images are still, although a silvery image of light on water never ceases to shimmer. All attention is on the two cello bows and the hands creating the notes.

Sara Penrhyn-Jones’ camera frequently closes in on the faces of the two women on screen, sixty years apart in age. Sheila Thomas is fixed with the kind of piercing eye that David Hockney gave to his mother in old age. Meg Brookes might have been a subject for Raphael.

Jill Greenhalgh and her collaborators thread the work throughout with contrasting motifs of evanescence and permanence. A hand may gently hold a rose or a tiny sculpted foot. A coal fire burns. Stained glass picks up a reflection. Meg Brookes moves slowly within the ancient woodland of Tycanol, with its unique hundreds of species of lichen, photographed in sunlight.

The theme of Margaret Cameron’s writing, she says, is quietude as an aesthetic principle. Some of the writing strikes home directly. The silence from those died young has rightly a powerful metaphorical eloquence. Some of the text is elusive. It is left unsaid as to whether silence might exist as a quality in itself or whether it needs an ear to attest to its presence.

“A great work creates its precursors” was one of Borges’ favourite sayings. There is a slow movement, gathering followers gradually, which advocates slow food, slow cities, slow education. Nicholas Carr tellingly titled his book on the internet, published this month, “the Shallows.” Quietness is reportedly integral to the Kaite O’Reilly- Philip Zarrilli piece “Told by the Wind.” But in one respect this first performance of “The Threat of Silence” was unique. The performers bowed and quit the stage. “There is calm, constant calm, continuing calm” Eddie Ladd had spoken as an early line. The audience, stilled into quietness, remained motionless.

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“The Threat of Silence” tours Aberystwyth University, Taliesin Arts Centre Swansea, and Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff throughout September.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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