Among other good things Breaking the Silence at the Mermaid, recast since its premiere at the Barbican Pit, brings back the much-missed Alan Howard after three years absence from the stage.
Mr. Howard always combined a natuarally aristocratic manner with a gift for half-hidden, understated comedy. This makes him a capital choice to succeed Daniel Massey in the best role the playwright Stephen Poliakoff has created - that of a dandified Russian grandee of the old regime facing the revolutionaries of 1920 in arrogant top hat, tail coat and silver-topped cane.
Still carrying his head absurdly high, he is forced to live in a shabby luxury train and tour the line as the Telephone Manager of the Northern Railway, contemptuously protesting in his high, glassy voice: "I am not the right person to watch telephone poles being erected!"
He does not know how lucky he is. While war rages outside - the Whites still threaten the Soviets - he is able to misappropriate Government funds. Closeted with his duchess-like wife (Gemma Jones), devoted servant (Jenny Agutter) and teenage son (Edward Rawle Hicks) he secretly pursues his unlikely life-work, which is to perfect the first talkie film five years before The Jazz Singer was thought of.
As in all good romances, historical and psychological truth underpins this cunningly told tale. Under the pressure of the new regime, Eugenia escapes from her subservience as a useless grande dame, takes a job and discovers she has a personality.
And the seesaw of political change brings the little menage to crisis after crisis. Twice Eugenia's cleverness saves her husband from exposure as a reactionary eccentric. They end at panic stations, their hidden diamonds discovered just as they are escaping across the border.......before the happy end.
I minded none of the implausibilities. The tale is exciting, full of fascinating detail, and allows Miss Agutter to be charming, Miss Jones to show a fashion-plate becoming a human being, Mr. Howard to be both comic and crazy, and the effects team to give a thrilling impression of a train clattering ahead while bombs explode in the night outside.
The Daily Telegraph, 29.5.85.
Back to RSC Reviews page.