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Review: The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre - Ruth Wilson is transfixing

You know those times you are watching a play utterly transfixed by what is happening on stage? Yep, well, that's how I felt watching  Ruth Wilson in The Human Voice.

The Human Voice Harold Pinter Theatre poster
The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre Mar 2022

The signs were good. She's a fabulous actress, and she's partnered with director Ivo Van Hove before - in Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre, which earned five stars from me.

An adaptation by Van Hove of Jean Cocteau's challenging play, The Human Voice is not just a monologue; it's one side of a telephone conversation. In the wrong hands, it could be awful. 

The conversation is between a woman (Wilson) and, as we learn, her lover. They have been together for five years, but he is leaving her and marrying another woman the following day, so this will be their last conversation.

There is nothing obvious or affected in Ruth Wilson's performance. We watch her through a large window as if observing her apartment from a neighbouring building. She occasionally walks out of view while talking, and there is something voyeuristic about the whole thing, a feeling which heightened by how oblivious she is to being viewed - or overheard. 

It is a journey of small revelations that have you hanging on every word. It is also a journey of emotions from painfully carefree denial and understanding to anger and utter despair. At first, it's an ordinary, banal conversation, comparing each other's days but mixed with the practicalities of separating each other's lives.

There is a little reminiscing before things slide into something raw and slowly tragic. At one point, Wilson is waiting for her lover to call her back, and she puts on Beyonce's Single Ladies and starts dancing. It's a jaunty pop song, and yet her attempt at distraction and joviality is laced with crippling heartache.

Other than the window, Jan Versweyveld's design is sparse; there is no furniture and few props, just some items of clothing - and the phone handset. It is a window into the woman's soul and all the terribleness of the end of a relationship.

It hasn't gone down well with all the critics, but I thought it was mesmerising and gripping. Hats off to Ruth Wilson, I'm giving The Human Voice ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre

Adapted by Ivo Van Hove from Jean Cocteau's play

Directed by Ivo Van Hove

Running time: 1 hour and 15 minutes without an interval.

Booking until 9 April; for more information and tickets, head to The Human Voice play website.

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