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A Spoonful of Silence
Published on Tuesday, 24 May 2011

5 stars

The Nightingale (venue website)
20-22, 27-29 May, 2:00pm-3:00pm, 6:00pm-7:00pm
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

 Suitable for age 15+ only.

For an hour of rare wonderment, Mandana (Laure Nicolas) welcomes 11 of us to gather round her kitchen table.  The occasion is intimate, an uncommon gift of space to listen, and a chance ponder our “civilised” ways – which upon reflection do often keep us busy about nothing, not least in small talk.


There is no doubting the surprise to come when Mandana first bids us enter her kitchen – extending her invitation in silence. It is curious to notice that we respond, too, with silence. True to form – and in opposition to the cosy space - we look only our friends in the eye and see past others, even when events take a surprising turn to ramp the cosiness up still further. The urge to laughter belies fear of still more unexpected events to come.

To begin with, the space seems rather tight for so many pent-up people.  Mandana prepares water for tea with her back to us, so there’s not a lot to divert our attention from each other; presumably everyone noted her long hair in a braid down her back as we waited, patiently, to be entertained.

Without wanting to give too much away, it can be revealed that what takes place is a tea party – our eyes lit up at cake, partaken of by all except one of Mandana’s guests, who refused it with a wave of the hand.  We were all getting used to non-verbal communication by then, although Mandana, seated among us, had begun to speak.

In calm, slow, patient and soothing voice she tells an engaging tale of her community, rewarded with the gift of speech only as far as they reap sufficient letters.  With a limited number of vowels or consonants available to last the year, words must be chosen very carefully to avoid waste. Mandana sets an example, her English being very fluent but not her first language. She recommends the value of doing one thing at a time, passing cups and saucers and plates anti-clockwise round the table through everyone’s hands.  It surely would have been quicker to put them on the table and have everyone help themselves – and of course, this was the point.

To use words sparingly, to really think about what one has to say, and to learn to savour the silence between words with no use for fillers – em, like, sort of – is a lesson in mindfulness and intimate communication and one beautifully conveyed by Mandana.

As the story unfolded so did the guests. Refreshed by rose petal tea we left, perhaps contemplating a trip to the village where, for three months in winter, its inhabitants hibernate wrapped in silence until the letters come again. Utterly charming!

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