but i cd only whisper
The set of but i cd only whisper is minimal, nearly bare. A single elevated platform sits in the centre of the space, furnished with two chairs, a side-table with a pitcher of water, and a slatted blind. It is the unlikely setting for a gamut of scenes, from a military post in Vietnam to a lounge room, from a police station to a dance floor.
From this central point a story begins to unravel, told in fragments and flashes of memory, violent clashes and reveries. It is 1970, and Beau Willie Brown, a black Vietnam veteran, stands accused of committing a horrific crime. His criminal culpability hangs in the balance as he recounts his history to psychiatrist Drummond. The truth of his narrative is cast into continual doubt around him as memories are revealed as illusions and scenes are replayed through multiple viewpoints. The script consists almost entirely of monologues, dialogues, and conversations with invisible others. It is an incredibly challenging format to keep an audience engaged across, and the actors handle it masterfully. Kristiana Colón’s script is well paced, empathetic and intensely poetic, negotiating a vast territory of emotions, loyalties and politics.
The staging is likewise impressive. With almost no props, spaces form and transmute in the audience’s own imaginations, subtly but deftly dictated by the script and delivery. There is a certain naivety implicit in the imagined sets and extended monologues, and the lack of visual distractions throws the emphasis heavily back on the narrative in a manner reminiscent of being read to as a child. But there is nothing naïve about the play itself: superbly directed, with stand-out performances by Adetomiwa Edun (Beau) and Emanuella Cole as Crystal, it holds the audience’s complete attention for the full hour and a half. With its exploration of loyalties torn across friendship, race and family, race relations in 1970s America, and the plight of returned soldiers who were “nothing before the war”, but i cd only whisper is a commanding and intelligent piece of theatre.
but i cd only whisper is playing at the Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston E8 3DL until 1st December. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.