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The Human Voice at the Harold Pinter Theatre | Review

There isn’t an understudy listed in this telephone monologue: the night truly is Ruth Wilson’s alone. I am, of course, referring to who the audience sees on stage – it’s a solo performance, but there is a large team of creatives and producers behind the scenes. Harking back to an era of crossed lines and landlines, albeit a cordless one in this case, the stage is otherwise bare, with nothing to indicate the character’s house being a home. Bright white lighting and walls are reminiscent of cells in madhouses – or, as they are now called, isolation rooms in psychiatric hospitals, though modern facilities are likely to have walls and furnishings in various colours.

The Human Voice - Ruth Wilson - photo by Jan Versweyveld.
The Human Voice – Ruth Wilson – photo by Jan Versweyveld.

Although there isn’t much to see – and sometimes nothing at all whenever Wilson continues her conversation off-stage – I’m not convinced this production would work just as well as a radio play. There are facial expressions and reactions to be seen that more than balance out hearing only one side of a conversation, and one that is invariably interrupted by a bad line. In this day and age, she may have been inclined to give up for the evening and indulge in Netflix. As the play was first performed in 1930, and it’s important She (as Wilson’s character is called in the programme) continues talking to her significant other, she struggles on.

Mind you, some things haven’t changed – I couldn’t count the number of times in recent years when I’ve been on public transport in London and there would be someone calling out, “Hello? Hello?” into their phone. Wilson’s She does it repeatedly, albeit in private. That the stage is so bare leaves much to the audience’s imagination – taken literally, her front room is immaculate, but that is only because there is literally nothing in it.

There is a large screen that slides, when fully opened, across most of the stage. The overall effect isn’t so much disorienting as curious: why does she press her hands against the screen as though a caged animal being held against her will, only to later slide the thing open? The pacing, too, is all over the place – at one point, the audience sits watching nothing going on at all, while a song plays out, seemingly in full. Ivo van Hove’s shows usually involve a decent amount of videography, and while at face value it might be refreshing to note that not a single camera is on stage in this production, the staging is reflective of a widescreen.

Wilson breaks into Italian once and once only, and it’s not clear what purpose this served, other than that the mixed emotions on display during a break-up are universal irrespective of language. Despite some bizarre direction, Wilson is controlled and nuanced, giving a convincing performance that could so easily have tipped into melodrama. But there’s no escaping the feeling that this seventy-minute production felt somewhat longer than that.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Two-time Olivier Award-winner Ruth Wilson stars in THE HUMAN VOICE – the searing story of a woman’s heartbreak over the course of a final phone call with her former lover.

Reunited with groundbreaking director Ivo van Hove (A View From The Bridge, Network) for the first time since their acclaimed Hedda Gabler, Ruth Wilson (The Affair, Mrs Wilson, His Dark Materials) returns to the West End for 31 performances only in this explosive reimagining of one of theatre’s greatest roles.

Jean Cocteau’s stunning monologue is more illuminating about love and loneliness than ever. Don’t miss it.

Originally produced by International Theatre Amsterdam


17 March – 9 April
Opening night: 22 March at 7pm

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