REVIEW: Berberian Sound Studio (Donmar Warehouse) ★★★

Peter Strickland’s 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio, was a masterpiece of tension and psychological drama firmly based in the Italian genre of giallo, that is marked by sex, violence, mystery and horror.

Now it has been conceived for the stage by Joel Horwood and Tom Scutt. But sadly, it doesn’t come close to the film in terms of atmosphere and ominous dread.

Tom Brooke stars as the mild-mannered Gilderoy, a sound designer and mixer who is employed to work on an Italian horror film directed by the enigmatic and slightly sinister Santini (Luke Pasqualino). It’s a world away from Gilderoy’s usual work of recording and dubbing birdsong and other natural history sounds for films shot in the Surrey countryside.

Gilderoy’s unease is accentuated by the language barrier — a lot of the dialogue here is in Italian, but it’s the manner in which things are spoken that’s important rather than having to understand exactly what is being said — not to mention his revulsion at the graphic content of the film.

As in the movie version, we don’t actually see the film that Gilderoy is working on and all the scenes of torture that he is asked to create effects for and the suffering of the female cast (Lara Rossi and Beatrice Scirocchi) are effectively conveyed using sound alone.

The fish-out-of-water element of the story is played at the beginning for laughs; Gilderoy’s social awkwardness, his confrontations with an obstructive receptionist and the eccentric choreography of two foley artists both called Massimo (Hemi Teroham and Tom Espiner).

However, things take a turn for the sinister and tensions in the work environment increase as Santini and the studio director Francesco (Enzo Cilenti) use threat and intimidation towards the female cast members to get the performances they want. This and the graphic content on screen that Gilderoy is forced to watch gradually pushes him over the edge to the point where reality and fiction become blurred and his sanity is stretched to the limits.

The cast here is first rate and the work of sound designers Ben and Max Ringham is quite exceptional, but this was a work created for the screen and it works best in that medium where the benefits of editing, pace and close-ups help increase the tension and horror of Gilderoy’s descent into a nightmare world.

Reviewed by Tony Peters
Photo: Marc Brenner

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