THE LISTENING ROOM | London, Theatre Royal Stratford East

Five actors play different roles each performance in this moving verbatim piece about street violence and the U.K. justice system. Eighty minutes of emotionally charged, untold stories draw you in with exceptional characterisation and attention to detail.

Wearing headphones and the same identical brown jumper, each actor is able to listen to the original speaker’s recorded voice as they in turn relate it to us. Inasmuch as it’s possible to tell from one performance, the acting actually appears to gain a dimension as a result, and any alienating devices such as cross-gender, cross-race or cross-age casting, or the headphones and trailing wires, melt away — leaving only layered, visceral performances.

In this way, “The Listening Room” is the traverse studio space, with the actors listening as much as the audience, a beautiful framing device that puts listening and empathy centre stage. Without wishing to divulge more spoilers, the collated interviews that we are told “have nothing to do with one another” are all to do with the power and healing that comes from listening.

Buckets of paint and rollers lie on the floor as the audience cross the stage to take their seats, and these are used in distinct, measured sections that break up the speaking and lift the piece from the merely verbatim into the poetic. Having sold out its original run in February, this profound and powerful piece demands to be seen — and listened to.

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