Five Kinds of Silence
Reviewed – 7th September 2017
“The show died a painful death … leaving us few audience members in a sixth kind of silence – a stunned silence.”
The sound of gunfire rings through the black box theatre. Billy staggers on stage in a blood stained shirt. His two daughters have shot him. He falls to the floor, taking in his last breath. Billy is dead.
This opening scene of KC Productions revival of Shelagh Stephenson’s Five Kinds Of Silence unfortunately symbolised the outcome for the rest of the performance. The show died a painful death, resembling that of Billy’s, and leaving us few audience members in a sixth kind of silence – a stunned silence.
Stephenson’s play is a harrowing tale of abuse, which is a brave choice for any theatre company to pick, as it requires its actors to dig deep and tackle very sensitive issues. We watch a family’s story unravel as Billy’s children, Susan and Janet, reveal the motives for killing their father. They expose a lifetime of physical, mental and sexual abuse that they, and their mother Mary, had endured at the hands of Billy. In a series of monologues that interject between the police interviews and therapy sessions, we discover the cyclical, repetitive nature of abuse as Mary and Billy (in metaphysical form) recount the bleak, violent years of their childhood.
The small space of the Etcetera Theatre helped to give a sense of the claustrophobia that the women, Susan, Janet and Mary, would have felt whilst imprisoned in their own home. However, this was not enough to relieve my underlying indifference to the atrocities described by all. The constant bombardment of distress and grief, with no lighter moments to counterbalance, meant that you became numb to the families suffering with events becoming banal – not the outcome the playwright or company desired I am sure.
Performances from the cast felt heavy handed and lacked any subtlety that these very complex characters needed. Directorial choices made by Chris Diacopoulos left me rather bewildered, reaching its pinnacle when the opening scene is repeated at the close, and actor Kevin G Cormack, playing the role of Billy, shouts out “Bang! Bang!” crudely making the noise of the gun that fires the fatal shots at him. Why the vocal talents of the actor were used instead of the sound effect we heard at the top of the show, will remain a mystery.
The final nail in the coffin for this production was the play itself. Having been originally written for the radio, Five Kinds Of Silence was adapted for the stage at a later date. The show was deprived of any real visual theatricality, depending on the long, descriptive monologues to paint the dramatic picture, as you would expect from a radio play. The company tried to make up for this, but to no avail. Instead, their sudden physical outbursts of emotion came across as unnatural and disjointed. As much as I tried to find a redeemable feature, I struggled, as this lacklustre production failed to make a worthy impression.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
FIVE KINDS OF SILENCE
is at The Etcetera Theatre until 9th September