The Notebook @ Contact, Manchester
Two bespectacled men in matching grey suits and maroon sweaters step out onto a bare stage. What follows is Forced Entertainment's version of Hungarian writer Ágota Kristóf's novel, The Notebook, directed by Tim Etchells.
Standing alongside each other, these two men (Richard Lowdon and Robin Arthur) open the notebooks each are carrying, and in unison – as if from one shared perspective – they read from inside, unveiling their joint diary.
The pages contain a child's eye view of life during wartime. The duologue describes the experiences of two inseparable twin boys who are evacuated to their grandmother's farm during World War Two. They start out poor and socially eschewed but, by the end of the story, the war has brought poverty down on everyone. The story the boys have to tell is a horrific and timeless one, full of the violence of war, the mindless victimisation of the innocent and the desperation of survival in a crumbling society. It is a grim and fascinatingly grotesque look at the brutal extremes humankind can take and inflict.
The boys are sociopaths, emotionally numbed to every encounter; the notebook they read from only ever reports fact and never feeling. An inherently dark and subversive humour is heightened by their deadpan delivery. At other times, the notebook's objectivity is pointed, forcing the audience to consider their personal ethics and politics in the wider context of war.
Both Arthur and Lowdon give faultless and compelling performances, portraying the pre-teen boys very well. The delivery is intense and so incredibly in sync that the piece feels truly like one single performance rather than two separate ones. The problem with The Notebook however, is its length. Running over two hours without a break means the very unique performances are overused, and it ultimately becomes a matter of endurance for the audience to get through such brutal subject matter.
The Notebook is at Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, 29 Oct, and Battersea Arts Centre, London, 3-14 Nov