AS I drove back from the Quicksilver Mail on Wednesday, pondering the meaning of the Swan Theatre production of Ashes to Ashes, Professor Laurie Taylor was on the radio, in a programme called Ghosts in the Machine, exploring the world of auditory illusion. It seemed weirdly appropriate.
Harold Pinter’s plays are notoriously elusive, sometimes menacing, always ambiguous. The playwright himself talks about the thing that is known and unspoken below the word that is spoken: “Under what is said, another thing is being said.”
This intense 45-minute two-hander is full of voices – ghosts in the machine, as it were – words that come from another time, another place, perhaps another person. Are they memories – voices from the past?
The setting is an anonymous room, with two chairs. A young woman called Rebecca talks in a low voice about her lover, who may have tried to strangle her, may have loved her, may have made her beg him to put his hands around her throat.
He may have been the man she describes walking along a railway platform seizing babies from their screaming mothers.
She also talks about visiting her sister, offering tantalising glimpses of a normal life, with children playing.
She is too young, we think, to have lived through the Holocaust, but these memories are straight from those frightening, familiar stories of families torn apart and shipped to concentration camps.
Rebecca is speaking to Devlin, who may be her husband, her lover, an interrogator or even a therapist. His questions are by turns gentle, jealous, probing and disbelieving. Perhaps he doesn’t exist. Perhaps, like the memories of the lover and the screams of the women, they are in her head.
If watching Ashes to Ashes is emotionally demanding for the audience, it must be doubly so for the young actors – Oliver Delafeld and Eva Balonova were convincing in the intensity of their relationship, her stillness contrasting with his restless movement, she hardly looking at him, he boring into her with his eyes. Quite unnerving.
This is the Swan’s first pub theatre venture. Director Ian White has chosen a difficult play but with these talented young actors he has achieved another success for Yeovil’s experienced and adventurous company. It will be fascinating to see what they do next at this new venue, with its large car park and easy accessibility for people on the west side of the town and in East and West Coker.
Ashes to Ashes is at the Quicksliver Mail until Friday 30th August, at 7.45.