Last Updated on 17th February 2019
Paul T Davies reviews Berberian Sound Studio now playing at London’s Donmar Warehouse.
Berberian Sound Studio.
15 February 2019
Based on the original screenplay by Peter Strickland, Tom Scutt, (director) and writer Joel Horwood have conceived a tense psychological drama that increases its grip on you as the ninety minutes unfold. Sound engineer Gilderoy arrives in Italy to work on what he thinks is a film about horses. But it is a horror movie, although the director insists it is not, and Gilderoy becomes increasingly obsessed with creating the gory sound effects, especially for the film’s grisly climax. The line between reality and fiction becomes increasingly blurred as he is disconnected from his mother, who is losing her sight back home, and the studio becomes his only existence.
That blurring of reality is established straight away by a clever opening sequence moving from voice over to Foley to live entrance. The Donmar is a perfect venue for this unsettling tale, Anna Yates and Scutt have designed an excellent sound studio set and together with Ben and Max Ringham’s superb composition and sound design, (the true star of the show), we become entombed in the studio along with Gilderoy. We struggle to see movement in the shadows, worry at the knocking on the door when no one is there, and strategically placed bangs had the audience jumping out of their skins!
The piece is driven by an excellent performance from Tom Brooke as Gilderoy, in many ways a classic Englishman out of water in a foreign country narrative, anxious about his expenses and struggling with the language. His facial expressions are a joy, taking us from apprehension, delight at the sophisticated equipment he has to work with, shock at the sexploitation movie, and finally exhaustion as his mental health breaks-he is mesmerising.
Set in the 1970s, the play also examines the abuse and sexualisation of violence against women, and the manipulation of actors in performing the roles. This shown by the struggle of voice artist Sylvia, a passionate performance by Lara Rossi, who resists the pressure to dub the torture scenes and walks out, while her colleague Carla, Beatrice Scirocchi, is pushed to breakdown by Gilderoy’s obsessive search for the perfect scream. Highly enjoyable are Tom Espiner and Hemi Yeroham as Foley artists Massimo and Massimo, and you will never look at vegetables in the same way after seeing how versatile they can be in creating the sounds of torture! Enzo Cilenti is also impressive as the bullying Francesco, pushing the artists to their limits.
Unsettling and entertaining, this is taut and short theatrical experience, working on many subliminal levels and avoiding any tacky tricks to shock us. You feel Gilderoy will never leave the studio, and thankful when you discover you can!
Until 30 March 2019