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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Silent Planet
Finborough Theatre   November-December 2014

A political commentary with embedded political parables, set in a prison drama with the focus on a personal relationship – playwright Eve Leigh may be trying to squeeze too much into just over an hour's running time. But enough of Silent Planet's pieces work on their own to hold you that the difficulty they have in coming together is not a major weakness. 

A dissident writer held in a Soviet mental hospital (as they were, the government using the claim of mental illness to disguise repression) has one comfort in the hospital library filled improbably with dissident literature and other banned books. 

His doctor/jailer is intrigued and envious, and they begin a barter arrangement, descriptions and narrations of the forbidden books in return for protection from torture and mistreatment. 

This can't end well, of course, but it gives the playwright the opportunity to insert the plots of several (invented) political fictions while developing the personalities and relationship of doctor and patient. 

That the Soviet Union used the guise of mental illness to neutralise dissidents cannot be news to many, and the banned stories narrated by the prisoner range, in the mode of political parables, from blatantly obvious to opaque in their topical references. 

Even the insight that jailer and prisoner can develop a bond over the years of their forced intimacy is not wholly original, but Eve Leigh's particular twist on the formula does give it special interest. 

Director Tom Mansfield and the two lead actors – there are two others, in smaller roles – take us into this particular pair with a nice mix of insight and ambiguity. 

Matthew Thomas lets us see the doctor lured, despite or perhaps because of the dangers, by the attraction of the forbidden, but then leaves open whether his interest is political or literary. 

And Graeme McKnight conveys the prisoner's delight in sharing his enthusiasms mixed with a hint of eagerness in perhaps creating a convert to his cause and some guilt at using the courage and creativity of others to save his own skin. 

Things get a little murky near the end, more as a result of the inescapable limitations of a very low budget production than any failing in the script. 

But there is much to Silent Planet, particularly in the basically unpolitical story of the two men, to move you and stick in your memory.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Silent Planet - Finborough Theatre 2014

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