A nuanced story about love, loss and parallel universes, The Silver Bell is a heartfelt tale told through witty dialogue, meaningful movement and intelligent design.
When scientist Mico meets actor James after a mediocre play, neither of them can guess that it is the beginning of an epic love story. After James is diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), things take a darker turn, and the pithy repartee is gradually replaced by the stark realities of living with, and caring for someone with, a debilitating illness. Written by Alan Flanagan, who also performs, what starts as a gentle comic piece develops in very unpredictable ways, keeping the audience on their toes and flipping expectations.
Flanagan is endearing as Mico, evincing discomfort and therefore allowing the other actor to initially take the lead in “performing” the story of his relationship with the man who will ultimately become his husband. Following James’ demise and unable to accept his loss, Flanagan then takes control of the piece, exploring the lengths Mico will go to in order to find him again. Brendan O’Rourke gives a strong and thoughtful performance as James, sometimes the man Mico remembers, and sometimes as other versions of him. Sacha Plaige’s movement direction is outstanding, and Amy Hill’s lighting design is both atmospheric and impactful.
The show’s concept is fascinating, but the narrative becomes a little muddy towards the end. It feels as if it is on the cusp of saying something really meaningful, but stops short of success. The narrative arc is engaging, and moving at times, however the final take-away is somewhat unsatisfying. The choice to portray MND provides opportunities for some truly beautiful physical theatre, with trust falls becoming both symptomatic and emblematic, however at times it feels like more of a plot device than a central element of the story.
Both characters are well-developed: likeable, sympathetic, and played with real sincerity. The examination of grief, bereavement and denial is intermingled with warm remembrances, and the clever use of lighting to show the movement through realities is inspired. Warm-hearted and peppered with the tragic and comic, this play is intriguing and skilfully performed.
By Deborah Klayman
The Silver Bell plays at Pleasance, Edinburgh until 28th August 2022.