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Berberian Sound Studio at Donmar Warehouse | Review

Hemi Yeroham (Massimo 2) & Tom Espiner (Massimo 1) Berberian Sound Studio at the Donmar, directed by Tom Scutt, designed by Tom Scutt & Anna Yates. Photo Marc Brenner.
Hemi Yeroham (Massimo 2) & Tom Espiner (Massimo 1) Berberian Sound Studio at the Donmar, directed by Tom Scutt, designed by Tom Scutt & Anna Yates. Photo Marc Brenner.

The narrative for this stage adaptation of the motion picture Berberian Sound Studio somewhat simplified relative to the film version, and the show works better for it by keeping the action contained within the same room, the studio of the title’s name. For one thing, the final twenty minutes or so are less convoluted than the equivalent scenes in the film, partially because of the single setting. The comparisons are difficult not to make for anyone who happens to have seen the film. Judging by the conversations in the bar before the show (which runs without an interval), a good number of people had booked to see the stage show having enjoyed the movie previously.

Of course, it does not automatically follow that just because there are vegetables aplenty and a large sign reading ‘SILENZIO’ on stage that everything else will be just as riveting, if not more so, than watching the movie again. Perhaps I’m biased (in having a general preference for stage over screen, that is), but this is a production that comes up trumps on several different levels. When Santini (Luke Pasqualino), the film director who behaves more like a theatre producer, finally meets Gilderoy (Tom Brooke), he takes umbrage when Gilderoy describes Santini’s movie, called ‘The Equestrian Vortex’, as ‘horror’.

Notwithstanding that the only ‘Gilderoy’ I’ve ever come across before Berberian Sound Studio was Gilderoy Lockhart of the Harry Potter series, this Gilderoy, who has extraordinary powers in terms of sound engineering abilities, is somewhat disoriented not only by the cultural and language barriers that present themselves as a natural result of a softly-spoken man from Surrey, Dorking to be precise – plunged into working in a bustling Italian studio, at Santini’s invitation. Francesco (Enzo Cilenti), the film producer who behaves more like a theatre director, is arguably stereotypically Italian in often adopting a terse tone even with friends, let alone voice actors. For instance, Sylvia (Lara Rossi) refuses, after repeated haranguing from Francesco, to scream any more at the top of her lungs (one too many takes and all that).

There is something to be said about Santini’s ‘vision’ for ‘The Equestrian Vortex’, which is, despite its title, about witch hunting in the medieval era. The power of figures of authority continues to exert influence to manipulate and take advantage of people without (as much) power, drawing parallels between the witch hunters and the (non) ‘witches’ with the likes of Francesco and the poorly treated staff working on the film. Here, sections of the dialogue are in Italian, which is gloriously left untranslated, except when Gilderoy asks directly for a translation, leaving the audience (aside from those who speak Italian, of course) about as knowledgeable as he is about what is being said.

Because of the technical content of the show – I suppose the ‘sound studio’ in the play’s title gives it away (the ‘Berberian’, to the best of my recollection, is never explained in this production), it is not nearly as frightening as one might be inclined to believe. There’s a focus on ‘Foley’ sound effects, the sort of enhanced sounds of everyday objects and movements for cinematic effect. The example that comes to my mind is coconuts used to produce the sound of horse hooves in Monty Python and the Holy Grail – there are plenty of others to witness here.

Tom Espiner, the show’s Foley designer, and one of two characters called Massimo (the other is played by Hemi Yeroham), together with sound designers Ben and Max Ringham, have done well to create a discernible and convincing atmosphere. Set a generation ago (correspondence from Surrey reaches Gilderoy by post), this is a surprisingly relevant play that asks the right sort of questions about whether what some call ‘sacrifice’ in the name of art is really downright exploitation. An intense and inventive piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Italy, 1976. Gilderoy is a long way from home.
His work as a sound designer for Dorking-based nature documentaries has not gone unnoticed. He has swapped the foley table of his garden shed for the glamour of the Berberian Sound Studio. Here, at the height of giallo horror, cabbages become corpses, your own voice can be over-dubbed and silence speaks louder than screams.

Peter Strickland’s acclaimed horror film is adapted for the stage by Joel Horwood and Director Tom Scutt in this darkly comedic, sonic experience.

The cast includes Tom Brooke, Eugenia Caruso, Enzo Cilenti, Tom Espiner, Sidney Kean, Loré Lixenberg, Luke Pasqualino, Lara Rossi, Beatrice Scirocchi and Hemi Yeroham.

Director Tom Scutt
Designers Anna Yates and Tom Scutt
Lighting Designer Lee Curran
Sound Designer and Composer Ben and Max Ringham
Movement Director Sasha Milavic Davies
Foley Designer Tom Espiner
Casting Director Amy Ball CDG

Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LX

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