Now Is The Time To Say Nothing
By Caroline Williams and Reem Karssli
At Arnolfini, Mayfest 2018
Walking out into the May sunshine after seeing Now Is The Time To Say Nothing, I knew I was going to be thinking about it for as long as I had the faculty to, that every now and then it was going to make me stop amidst my everyday life as an image or a parallel struck, that its people and places might even infuse my dreams. It’s an act as instinctive and multi-layered as a hug. It’s full of conflict, full of genuinely unanswerable questions, full of love.
The set-up is simple – which is just as well because but what unfolds is not. You’re led into a comfortable, dark space, a circle of armchairs and screens, you put on headphones, and the action begins. It’s not a purely passive experience – later on there are moments of gentle movement or the shifting of lights, the room reverberates, there’s magic in the air. But to begin with your field of vision is the screen, which feels appropriate when most European people’s experience of the Syrian conflict will have been through a small rectangle of some kind. And perhaps a note on the words I used there: ‘Syrian’ and ‘Conflict’ in the same breath as ‘Theatre’ might make the heart sink, Now Is The Time To Say Nothing does not.
What flickers upon those screens is a collage of emotions. Its aesthetics feel a bit like an Adam Curtis film without the authorial stridency – just as musical, just as careful, but any statements it makes are far more personal. It’s not simply documentary, in the same way it’s not simply an installation. At the same time as telling a Syrian story, the show reveals its own construction: the journey of a group of young Londoners learning about a family in Damascus via skype, educating themselves about the war, asking how the fuck they’re going to connect with this information. Unafraid of revealing the edits, the video jumps around unexpectedly, you often feel like you’re trying to catch up. Which isn’t to say there aren’t points of deep, deep focus. There is one utterly astonishing moment where the screen is eaten up by an act of poetic despair both so intimate and so complex and heartbreaking, I’m not sure I’ll ever see anything like it in a theatre ever again.
The emotional effect of this is that you walk away with your own choices. What do you choose to remember from this cavalcade of information with its multiple filters, mirrors, corruptions, lenses – whose eyes was it seen through, whose history most reverberated for you? There’s no authorial agenda, no fucking argument, separating this from the kind of soapbox declamations you might get in the worst kind of play. It’s become common for modern theatre-makers to automatically say what their work is ‘about’, to soundbite its themes, why it deserves to exist – but I can’t honestly sum up Now Is The Time To Say Nothing as a show ‘about’ the war in Syria. It goes light-years beyond that if you want it to. Similarly I’d want to avoid any boring critical pronouncements, descriptions of this experience as ‘vitally important’ or ‘urgent’ or ‘necessary’, the kind of unhelpful crap that sets artist above audience and does nothing for theatre’s reputation as an exclusive club, the have-seens and the haven’ts. I don’t know what the makers of this show intended when they set out to create it, but for me sometimes all that’s necessary is a single ambition towards one profound feeling. Now Is The Time To Say Nothing transports you to a state of deep empathy where so many different kinds of reaction are allowed. It’s just over three hours since I’ve seen it, and I’d be surprised if in 3 years I’ve fully understood what it’s done to me.