Pros: I found catharsis in the beginning of the play, which shows the death of the perpetrator.
Cons: With only two people in the audience, the cast had to work harder to build the necessary tension.
The stage is empty, except for three folding chairs, aligned in front of the audience, and a small table against the wall. On top of it, a bottle of whisky and some glasses.
Two loud gunshots break the silence before a man, wearing a white shirt, comes staggering in. When he drops down to the floor, lying on his back, I see his shirt stained with blood, whilst his limbs become lifeless. He’s immediately followed by three women. The first, visibly distraught, is wielding a gun and the other two seem more in control of themselves, eager to ascertain if the man is dead.
This bloodied scene comes back to me repeatedly throughout the 80 minutes of Five Kinds of Silence, in which Shelagh Stephenson offers a brutal portrayal of domestic abuse and some of its long-term outcomes. The topic is bloodcurdling and the playwright doesn’t spare the details or their psychological implications.
The story revolves around Billy (Kevin G. Cormack), who grew up with a violent father and, as a result, becomes the perpetrator of abuse towards his wife and daughters, in the portrayal of a totally dysfunctional paternal figure. He’s the man we see dying on stage in the opening sequence but, in reality, he never leaves the scene, haunting his daughters in their dreams and echoing their accounts of punishing house rules and continuous sexual harassment. Cormack is excellent for the role; his hideous talk is disturbing and the recollection of his death an inevitable relief.
After being arrested by the police, 24-year-old Janet (Charlotte Campbell), her sister Susan (Suzanne Celensu) and their mother Mary (Moya Allen) are urged by the Detective Sergeant (Warren Palmer), their defence lawyer and a psychiatrist (both played by Anna Ray) to reveal the details of their long psychological and physical captivity. Often mitigated by a sort of Stockholm syndrome, the three women recall over a decade of horrors, which had been enveloped in the silence of the four family members and ignored by the outside world. Five different kinds of silence.
‘He wasn’t a bad man but he needed to be put down’ says Mary, who also mentions the poor behaviour of her own father, in an attempt to justify her inability to defy her husband and protect her daughters from his blind rage.
Delivering such an emotional play to an almost empty auditorium is possibly the biggest challenge the five-strong cast has to face and, despite their commitment, I occasionally feel the absence of spectators as detrimental to the levels of tension required by the action.
Born as a radio drama, Five Kinds of Silence tells rather than shows and, as such, it fortuitously spares the audience the most graphic visual elements. In Stephenson’s distorted universe, the perpetrator isn’t given a chance to repent and the only message of hope comes directly from his death.
Author: Shelagh Stephenson
Director: Chris Diacopoulos
Producer: KC Productions
Box Office: 020 7482 4857
Booking Link: https://www.ticketea.co.uk/tickets-theatre-five-kinds-silence/
Booking Until: 1 October 2017