The Human Ear



Roundabout@Summerhall, Edinburgh

Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis must surely be the hardest working actors at this year’s fringe. Starring in no less than three duologues at Roundabout (Our Teacher’s a Troll, Lungs and The Human Ear), the number of lines they’ve managed to learn is impressive in itself; that their performances are consistently first-rate is nothing short of amazing.

All three pieces are directed by George Perrin, and there’s a distinctive style to his work. There’s no set, no props, no fancy costumes. Instead, there’s a blank stage, two actors – both casually but anonymously clothed – and a lot of clever lighting (designed by Emma Chapman). There’s no attempt at naturalism here, no attempt to physically create a space. Where the characters are (on the doorstep, at home, in bed, in IKEA) is told us through the dialogue; the actors’ movements represent instead the characters’ emotional distance – they circle each other, move close together, far apart – and it’s done so well we never question it.

In The Human Ear, Reese-Williams plays Lucy, a recently bereaved young woman, whose estranged brother turns up unexpectedly. Salis plays both the brother, Jason, and Lucy’s policeman boyfriend, Ed. He switches effortlessly between roles, without relying on any of the usual techniques: there’s no obvious change of stance, no particular mannerism added, no vocal tic or new accent. He just is, somehow, a different man.

Time-shifts are similarly deftly shown. There are no pauses in the dialogue – the flashbacks are unbidden thoughts within conversations – but the lighting (a masterclass in precision) makes clear exactly where we are.

There is a lot to admire about this play. The premise is exciting and it’s beautifully performed. If, in the end, the pay-off isn’t quite as satisfying as what’s gone before, it’s still a production well-worth seeing.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield


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