Arcola Theatre, London Until Jun 2, 1hr 15mins
When a writer has made it big, going back to their earliest works doesn’t always reap rewards. Prolific and successful, Mike Bartlett has given us award-winners King Charles III on stage and Doctor Foster on TV. But his first play, for radio, is a lucid four-hander spanning decades and generations that won a major prize and has been adapted by the author for the stage.
Four chairs, a piano and pools of light are all that illuminate this cautionary tale hingeing not on what is said but what is kept hidden. The relationship between Lucy and James starts to founder when she has a miscarriage (we only hear of it through David Horovitch’s gentle, considerate James), and his stance as a conscientious objector in World War Two embarrasses Lucy (a stoic Kika Markham), though he is oblivious. These evasions have long-reaching consequences.
Mark and Amanda are both squaddies at an Army camp. Gung-ho lad Mark (Lawrence Walker, below) finds that the macho culture forces him to remain quiet about an incident involving Gemma Lawrence’s strong Amanda that also changes her life.
Deftly directed by James Hillier, the piece builds and ebbs and flows – like the piece of Chopin music that eventually links this quartet – and absorbingly reveals the fallout of staying silent.