The Human Voice: Ruth Wilson @ the Harold Pinter Theatre
Blistering performance from Ruth Wilson as a character who we glimpse through a half glassed in box (their flat with a city opening patio door) and experience through their half of a series of telephone conversations with an unknown, unheard person.
It feels very close to Madame Bovary, and to Anna Karenina, as Cocteau’s female character monologues through a break-up with their lover over the phone; at first appearing strong and together: further in we see their disintegration and desperation. Unexpectedly there are moments of humour, such as claiming not to know where some shoes are (the woman can see them directly across the room) and in wearing her lover’s old jumper over her loungewear, not to mention her Beyonce strut!
Excruciatingly we experience the woman’s misery as she lets her ‘strong’ self fall; we piece together (as her lover does) her attempted suicide, her insomnia, her misery, her desperation to be seen and loved again. It sounds as though her lover has moved on — there are suggestions of a visit to his mother and imminent collection of a bag of things, of their things being emptied out of the woman’s flat. Tenderly we experience the woman’s relationship with her lover through jokes, flirting, pet names and tone. It’s also incredibly painful as we see the woman initially pretending to be strong and then holding the receiver away to hide her tears and hurt; even when she does reveal her true feelings, these are done in hints — until she explodes with anger and suppressed rejection at the end.
Never has a woman clinging silently to a wall been so mesmerising. When the woman collects her much discussed blue dress, we expect she is going out — the going out she does is totally unexpected and horrific. We see someone coming to the end of themselves — longing for a final phone call, then when it does come — not answering it and brining things to a terrible conclusion.
Kudos to Ruth Wilson’s intimate and impressive performance, but at the same time, it left me reflecting on how society (certainly Western) applauds and glamourises female mental health issues and suicide, even positively goads and encourages it in certain media circles. Perhaps this is why male mental health battles and high suicide rates have been heinously overlooked until recently. All of this led me to comparisons with Anna Karenina — where are woman tries to end herself and her suffering, but regrets her decision too late (leading to her tragedy) and here the character’s leap into oblivion is almost applauded as an empowering #MeToo act, a strange selfishness in choosing to put herself and her needs first. We totally empathise with her loss, her nothingness, her ‘what shall I do with my days?’, with her caressing her lover’s shoes just as if they were still there in person. Whilst preppy, peppy recovery stories can be equally unhelpful, I wonder if this highlights an issue in drama — more stories are needed about suffering women and men who get by, do get through and recover, but it’s more messy, uneven, true to life.
There is also a whole discussion to have about what voices we listen to and what is our authentic true voice. Are we ever really ourselves?
The blue dress and silver shoes looked fabulous. I’d have liked to see them live another day with dash in the future, rather than be destroyed along with their wearer.