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Theatre review: The Hush, The Shed, NT, London


There's a play by Ben Jonson called Epicoene, or The Silent Woman in which a wealthy old fool named Morose has such a fanatical hatred of noise that he's devised a room with double walls and treble ceilings to try to block out the world. 

I was reminded of this both by the title of the new show at the Shed and by the fact that, on entering, punters are encouraged to leave their shoes in the allotted rack. But, in fact, it's not a phobic reaction to din but a morbid obsession with sound as a trigger for, and a preserver/distorter of, memory that animates the domain explored in this 50 minute piece which has been created by Matthew Herbert, the DJ, composer and electronic music pioneer, and dramaturg Ben Power. 

The Hush would appear to be a sort of chic studio-cum-clinic where individuals can book private, would-be therapeutic sessions with a top-notch sonic design team and live Foley sound-effect artists (whose ministrations are here expertly performed by Barnaby Smyth and Ruth Sullivan). 

It's a facility that seems to have an eerily comprehensive data bank of recordings (if you want to hear the difference between the ambient sound in Portland Place in 1972 and now, it would be right up your street). Hence its sinister/cranky appeal for the character played by Tobias Menzies who, with a neurotic and depressed faddiness (“More burn on the cigarette...More teeth in the drag...”), is struggling to re-assemble the auditory sensations of an evidently key moment in a personal relationship. He alternates with, and eventually crosses the path of, Susannah Wise who checks in to listen to memory-jogging recordings made for her by her father.

Matthew Herbert is a man whose sample-based music is known for pointedly combining the prankish and the politicised. For Le Plat du Jour, he notoriously drove a truck over a recreation of the dinner that Nigella Lawson cooked for Tony Blair and George W Bush and in One Pig he graphically documented the life-cycle of the animal from birth to plate. The Hush feels pretty tame by comparison in its rather restrained demonstration that both the virtue and drawback of sound as a dramatic device is its range of suggestion. I must not say too much about the lovely moment, at the end, when the futile, strained intensities in the clinic are blessedly relaxed and put in their place,  but the show is not quite the promised “aural adventure” – at least not to my ear. 

To August 3; 0207 452 3000