Is it better to have heart or brains? Back in school there was invariably a teacher, usually a science or geography one, who, bereft of some inspiring homework ideas, got the class to make poster presentations about some illness/humanitarian crisis, and, no matter what, your presentation would always pale in comparison to someone else’s poster. A poster that would have less than information than yours, but also have different coloured paper and glitter sparkles so would get the better mark because some idiot teachers will always prefer flair over substance.
And Return to the Silence is bursting at the seams with flair. The audience, sat in groups of six on the theatrical equivalent of rollercoaster carts, are trundled about so that they can catch glimpses of layered scrawlings on walls which are being projected live on a screen by an actor carrying a camera while people whisper into microphones and others leap across the stage while a piano simultaneously plays in the background and a sheet comes on stage and someone eats paint and a strobe light flickers on and off and Jesus Christ, are they trying to give the audience a collective brain seizure?
Actually, they probably are in the vain hope that it will evoke some kind of empathy from the audience. Before the show we were told that the cast wanted to warn us that we might be ‘moved’ by the piece. Which was nice. A lie as it turned out, but nice that they cared. You can show the effects of neurological disorders, you can explain their causes, you can make the audience sympathise with the tragedy of it all, but you can’t expect them to truly empathise because the whole concept is, by its very nature, totally alien. How do you approach the idea of randomly losing your free will with anything but senseless terror?
Return to Silence isn’t like a poster presentation, it is a poster presentation. A presentation with so much panache that even furniture is cleared from the stage with a turn and a flourish, but it’s a factual description of a variety of tragic neurological disasters with zero drama and no emotional hook. To return to the opening question: this is a play about brains that on the skin has plenty of heart but is really a meticulously calculated piece of left-hemisphere action with no soul. Now who’s having a headfuck?