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Intriguing adaptation of Vercors’ book set in occupied France

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SILENCE OF THE SEA Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, SW1

Four stars

Silence and the power it commands is the theme of this play, which tells the story of the illusion of humanism in a world of hatred.

Anthony Weigh’s adaptation of Vercors’ book examines an excruciating dilemma faced by both the occupier and the occupied in France during the Second World War.

An old man and his niece show resistance against the German occupiers by not speaking to the soldier assigned to their house in a small village by the sea. Powerless to turn him away, the old man and the young girl resist him with silence – a silence that becomes their most potent weapon.

A play that focuses on silence would seem challenging to say the least, but this version of the book, which became a symbol of resistance, manages to cast new light on this story of the enduring power of the human spirit.

The German officer attempts again and again to connect with his unwilling hosts, in a series of monologues: reflections on his life, personal stories, philosophy, music.

Deluded by the Nazi propaganda of the time, thinking the army is there to build and create a brotherhood with the French, it becomes clear to the initially condescending soldier that the real goal of the German army is to exploit. And simultaneously his personality becomes more brittle and uncertain.

Leo Bill is excellent as the sensitive but naïve soldier. Finbar Lynch plays the part of the old man, who narrates to us his version of the event. Meanwhile Simona Bitmaté takes on her role of his niece. Although she does not have a word to say until the play is drawing to a close, the power of Bitmaté’s performance comes from her elegant silence throughout.

An intriguing take on this story of occupation and resistance, in all its forms.

* Silence of the Sea is at Trafalgar Studios until February 2. Visit www.atgtickets.com to book.

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