A woman, alone, heartbroken, awaiting the ring of the telephone. The audience eavesdropping, piecing together a doomed evening based on half a conversation and a long history. Eventually the silent pauses and dropped connections grow louder with the woman’s increasing distress and despair.
It’s Still Her Voice was an experimental mash-up of Jean Cocteau’s 1920s play The Human Voice and the 1958 opera adaptation by Francis Poulenc in which a woman sits alone in her home while speaking to her ex-lover on the phone. The audience is only privy to her side of the conversation as the tension of the conversation grows and her emotions overflow in a tragic end. Re-adapted by Siren Theatre Co, It’s Still Her Voice overlapped the Cocteau original in contemporary English (Pollyanna Nowicki) and the Poulenc opera in French (Karina Bailey) with musical accompaniment by music director Antonio Fernandez.
The repetition of the overlapped and interwoven scripts was carried through to the staging as director Kate Gaul had Nowicki and Bailey sharing one stage with their rooms mirroring each other across the space. At times, the women wandered into or behind each others’ spaces but each was too absorbed in their telephones to notice the other woman echoing her words. In an interview with Brand X, Gaul discussed being inspired by the loneliness and connection that phones and digital communication see-saw between. Gaul acknowledged the predictions of Cocteau’s 1920s Paris by having the performers swap between using a bright red rotary phone and a slim smart phone, signalling how little has changed in the way we reach out to each other through technology.
The lighting design by Jasmin Borsovszky utilised rich colours, particularly red, to amplify the emotional arc of the women and visually convey Poulenc’s composition. Dark shadows, patinaed warm light, and red highlights lent the production a Parisian film noir aesthetic that additionally suited the high drama of the women’s evening.
For anyone unfamiliar with the source texts of this experimental adaptation, the plot was difficult to decipher as there were too few cues to indicate the women’s relationship to each other. Which could still have resulted in an emotionally successful production, only the frequent pauses as the women alternated their lines was distracting and ultimately disrupted each of their building momentums. As an exercise in attention and character, The Human Voice is an interesting text but by removing the tension of the silences and filling the entire production with sound, it destabilised the delicate balance between action and inaction and deflated the heart of these women’s stories.
There is plenty of meaty potential in exploring loneliness and connection in the pandemic years but the focus of this adaptation unfortunately missed the mark.
It’s Still Her Voice ran at the Flying Nun from March 4th – 5th
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