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A CurtainUp London Review
Berberian Sound Studio

"Silence is the sound of real fear."
— Sylvia
Berberian Sound Studio
Tom Brooke as Gilderoy and Lara Rossi as Sylvia
(Photo: Marc Brenner)
Peter Strickland's 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio was a tribute to the Italian film makers of Giallo (yellow) horror thrillers. It starred Toby Jones as the misplaced sound geek who found himself in the middle of an increasingly scary, film sound studio.

At the Donmar Warehouse, Tom Brooke is Gilderoy, the dorky sound enthusiast from Dorking who, up to now, has specialised in the Foley sound effects for nature documentaries. It is Gilderoy's realistic close-up film sounds of deer rutting which have brought him to the attention of the cult Italian director Santini (Luke Pasqualino). In a later flash back in the play we see Gilderoy and his mother discussing whether he should fly to Italy at his own expense and his mother suggests that the Italians might pay his airfare.

We can all identify as a young person arriving in a strange place and being unprepared. At 16, an exchange with another school had me booked into a convent in Paris on my own for one night. The question came, "Etes-vous religieuse?" and my hesitant answer was "Oui". Then I remembered that when the French ask about your occupation they omit the article so I had been asked whether I was a nun. My reply made them express surprise at my clothes, probably a 1960s mini skirt, and I had some curious looks.

The first item on Gilderoy's agenda is to find out where to go and to get his airfare refunded. The answers to both are suitably imprecise and he has no knowledge of the Italian language to probe deeper. After following the sound of screams in the dark, he does find the studio where Francesco (Enzo Cilenti) greets him in Italian and shows him the sound decks area behind glass.

Red signs saying "Silenzo" shine brightly in the darkened room. Two zany Massimos, Massimo 1 (Tom Espiner) and Massimo 2 (Hemi Yeroham) choreograph the smashing water melon staging, the footsteps, the horses neighing, all with stylish aplomb. To the right is a sound box with two girls Sylvia (Lara Rossi) and Carla (Beatrice Scirocchi) who are to scream as they are tortured.

Much of the play is in Italian and I was as bemused as Gilderoy; the decision not to have surtitles adds to the confusion of the work. As Gilderoy tries to find the exact sound for "indelible la bacio" (the indelible kiss) vegetables are tortured. His task is then to sound fingers being cut off and he starts with the snap of a stick of celery.

The two Massimos were for me the stars of the show with their enthusiastic and rapid creation of sound effects using numerous props and pure comedy. Their second entrance in high heels is hilarious. Tom Brooke has exactly the right facial expressions for someone in the spectrum but dedicated to getting the sound effects exactly right. When he eventually does meet the mysterious Santini, Gilderoy has no social skills. It is a superb performance from Brooke. I loved the small touches like Santin's immaculate designer suit showing "la bella figura".

The sounds are the show's stars — the creaking doors, the breaking glass, the ripping off of clothing, the torturous screams and there is a point when we wonder whether the art will make further demands. Devotees of the film Berberian Sound Studio will want to see this stage version but the rest of us might be a bit mystified.

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Berberian Sound Studio
Written by Joel Horwood
Based on the original motion picture screenplay by Peter Strickland
Conceived for the stage by Tom Scutt and Joel Horwood
Directed by Tom Scutt
Starring: Tom Brooke, Eugenia Caruso, Tom Espiner, Hemi Yeroham, Enzo Cilenti, Sidney Kean, Lara Rossi, Beatrice Scirocchi, Loré Lixenburg, Luke Pasqualino
Design: Anna Yates and Tom Scutt
Composition and Sound Design: Ben and Max Ringham
Movement: Sasha Milavic Davies
Lighting Design: Lee Curran
Projection: Mogzi Bromley-Morgans
Foley Designer: Tom Espiner
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 3282 3808
Booking to 30th March 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 23rd February 2019 matinee performance at The Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street London WC2H 9LX (Tube: Covent Garden)
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