Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
The Noises is about a dog. Her name is Luna, and she lives in a fairly ordinary house with a fairly ordinary family (a grouchy Ma, a submissive Pa, a beloved Ellie Girl). However, we have not caught Luna on anything like an ordinary day. She’s been locked into a room for unspeakable crimes regarding a chicken, while an argument rages between Ma and Ellie – about what she’s wearing, when she’ll be home, where exactly is she going anyway? Not unusual for a Friday night in a teenage household – but then Ellie doesn’t come home. And the noises… they start getting louder.
Throughout the next hour and a half our experience is split in this way; noises seeping under the door – wine being poured (“Ah”, nods Luna knowingly, “The red stuff”), phones ringing, and later more ominous soundings in the night – while we are locked in with Luna. We are forced in this way to experience the outside world, the Them world, in a kind of double-vision; the way that we understand it, and the way that Luna interprets it. It’s clever and compelling – the idea of experiencing the world through a dog’s eyes has been done before, but possibly never so well.
A lot of that is down to Amy McCallister. One (wo)man shows are hard because as a performer, you have to be constantly interesting, so people’s attention doesn’t start wandering. No such problem here; McCallister totters about the stage as Luna, shuffling nervously, or baring her teeth, funny, tragic, distressed – there are so many themes explored here, and McCallister transitions seamlessly between them. The physicality of her performance is unwavering and really serves to underline the canine nature of the character she is playing; she embodies Luna as a textured, multi-faceted character (and dog), and it’s very impressive.
The dialogue plays its part too – it is lyrical, almost poetry, and an entirely unique voice for Luna. She describes her world to us in terms of Us and Them, adversarial due to her circumstances (rabbit-hunter, street dog, less-than-beloved pet), touching on themes of family (Pack), relationships with men (big-dicked labradoodles, teenage boys with the Stink), and motherhood. This is a mother-daughter play, a collaboration between TS Eliot Award shortlisted poet and playwright Jacqueline Saphra and director-dramaturg Tamar Saphra, and it comes through in waves. The relationship between Ma and Ellie (painful, fierce, loving), as well as the relationship between Luna and Ellie, Luna and humans in general – all echoing a bond, and asking a question. How far do you go for the people you love when the night is loud and full of noises?
Old Red Lion is a small space, and sometimes it can be hard to fit a big idea into that space. However, The Noises has the best set design I have ever seen at Old Red Lion – it’s hard to describe why without getting spoiler-y but it conveys the feeling of claustrophobia and, later, fear incredibly effectively. So too the lighting – again without spoiling anything, it is integral to the atmosphere of the play, and is executed expertly.
The Noises opens on an empty stage, while McCallister narrates overhead. She describes the format of the play, her own techniques for making herself dog-like, the precise objects in the room (brown cushion, dog toy) as well as the sounds they make (untranslatable unfortunately). It’s an audio description for the visually impaired; not something I’ve ever seen before, but that I hope to see much more often.
My verdict? Funny, touching, fearful – an excellent, unmissable play.
The Noises runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 20 April 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.