Southwark Playhouse, London
By Alice Baker
Actress Lisa Dwan sits on a bed, reading from a book. When she pauses, a spotlight swings from her to a solo instrumentalist, who plays one of many excerpts by young composer Samantha Fernando. It all seems designed to evoke nostalgic childhood memories of being read aloud to, a simple pleasure that we normally lose out on as we reach adulthood.
But The Journey Between Us – described as ‘a dialogue between music and narrative stories’ – is not designed for children. Indeed, there was something deeply disturbing about the first, and most powerful story of the evening. A Temporary Matter, by Jhumpa Lahiri, revolves around a couple, who, during a series of power cuts, pass their time by telling each other secrets. As the days go by and the revelations get gradually more damaging, it becomes clear that this is a marriage holed below the waterline by an earlier tragedy. What emerges is a searingly powerful depiction of grief and the deceptions of romantic relationships.
The other stories were not quite so engaging: Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which focuses on the difficulty of defining the word ‘love’, is amusing and thought-provoking, but a little over-extended. Meanwhile Lydia Davis’s The Silence of Mrs Iln, about a woman who stops speaking as she grows older, felt somewhat truncated, with an abrupt and anticlimactic conclusion. All, however, were excellently read by Dwan, who vividly brought the characters and emotions to life.
As for the musical sections, they were intermittently successful, most of all when they acted as interjections within the individual narratives, prompting a pause in the action which helped to build suspense. The second longer piece also created a feeling of oncoming menace through a rapid scurrying tempo and effective use of bongos, accordion, gong and glockenspiel. At other points, however, the music was overly repetitive, failing to clearly distinguish between the different stories. And the Southwark Playhouse was not ideally suited to the event, as poor acoustics distorted the sound of the instruments.
Staged in a different location and with some tweaks to the programme, the ‘dialogue between music and narrative stories’ will be able to become a truly companionable conversation.