Theatre: A vision of the victims of war

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The Independent Culture
DEBORAH BRUCE'S lovely, poetic revival of Making Noise Quietly, Robert Holman's 1986 triptych about lives touched and damaged by war, arrives in the West End at a tragically auspicious moment. With Nato and the Government intent on simplifying the Balkans conflict to a monolithic struggle between Good and Evil, we need the sanity of this play's scrupulous vision more than ever.

A finely wrought moodpiece as much as a delicately nuanced moral meditation, Making Noise Quietly achieves its impact by examining war's long-range effects in seemingly incongruous atmospheres. The nearest we get to battle is in the sound of the Doodlebugs thathammer down on the neighbouring Kentish fields in the first play, Being Friends, set in the hot summer of 1944.

Hailing from a family with a long pacifist tradition, Holman is preoccupied by the problem of evil: does it exist in a form to which the only viable moral response is war? John Lloyd Fillingham's Oliver, a conscientious objector working on the land, is now struggling with his pacifist beliefs as he awkwardly reveals to a gangly, uninhibited, well-connected young artist (Peter Hanly) in a chance, pastorally idyllic encounter that is full of wry homo-erotic subcurrents. What rocked his certainties was the spectacle, in the hospital where he used to work, of a German soldier who appeared to have been brutally tortured. The fact that Oliver's pacifism is jolted by an atrocity so close to home is characteristic of a triptych that declines to see things in black-and-white terms.

Given a haunting continuity here by having the excellent actors double roles, by silhouetted costume changes and by the dreamily unresolved incidental music, the three pieces have a powerful cumulative effect. The most clear- cut, perhaps, is the second, set during the Falklands War, in which an ordinary Cleveland housewife (Eleanor Bron) fights to cope with the news that her snobbish, long-estranged son has (a) perished on HMS Glamorgan and (b) married behind their backs into a top naval family. The play is a subtle study of the social and emotional pressures that can turn an instinctive revulsion of war into a dulce et decorum est patriotic sound.

Cut to 1986 in the Black Forest, and another Falklands veteran, on the run from the army with his eight-year-old stepson, comes into testing collision with a German businesswoman and Holocaust survivor in the most beautiful of the plays.

The opportunities for notes of false uplift are rife in this kind of story: a victim of the camps wages a determined battle to draw a little boy (the excellent Phillip Dowling) out of his defiant mutism and to bring home to the stepfather - whose army-induced terror of his capacity for violence is superbly conveyed by Mr Lloyd Fillingham - that he is not evil incarnate. But thanks to a most movingly unsentimental performance from Ms Bron and to the writing's wonderful open-endedness, all the pitfalls are avoided.

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