The People's Theatre
28th Oct 2015
Five Kinds of Silence by Shelagh Stephenson
The People's Theatre have chosen two hard hitting, uncompromising short plays for their Studio productions this month. Tackling themes of abuse, isolation, loneliness, and the nature of love, loyalty and justice, these plays are once again choices that will make you uncomfortable, make you think and almost certainly make you count your own blessings.
Five Kinds of Silence is the story of Billy, the product of an abused and chaotic childhood. He has grown into a man who needs control and order. But he achieves this through violence and intimidation, physical and mental. On the surface he is a fine family man - he has a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters. Everything he has ever wanted, and he plans to keep them safe - from everyone, and everything but himself. They live in fear of him and yet both they and he himself talk of love. As the play progresses the sense of isolation grows, flashbacks to his childhood, and early adulthood reveal the horror he has lived and is perpetuating - but there are flashes of hope when he meets Mary which are sadly dashed and which lead to his death. (this is not a spoiler - he is shot in the opening scene).
Five Kinds of Silence was originally written as a radio play and this shows in the visual quality of the language - the characters conjure images with their words that make the horror of the situation all the more telling.
The cast led by Gordon Russell as Billy give a astounding performances. He is larger than life, expressive, he dominates the stage whenever he is on it. Whereas his wife Mary (Val Russell) and daughters Susan (Anna Dobson) and Janet (Nicky White) are cowed, but no less compelling as they deal with his violence and the array of professionals who they subsequently come into contact with.
It is a harsh, ugly existence yet we are left feeling a great deal of sympathy not only for the women but for Billy too - for how was he ever to escape the violence that was imprinted in his psyche from childhood?
The Zoo Story is a much quieter and yet somehow even more perturbing story of two strangers who meet in the park. Peter, ( is minding his own business reading on the park bench as he has done every day when he is greeted by a passer by (Stuart Douglas) and reluctantly enters into his erratic conversation. Again the themes of exclusion and isolation, social acceptability are explored in what is essentially a monologue by Jerry punctuated with occasional comments and questions by Peter. What starts as a friendly, if somewhat random conversation soon begins to take an ominous turn and it becomes clear that jerry is leading up to something - taking the long way, to go a short distance. Something has happened at the zoo, but before we find out what we must hear all of jerry's stories about the dog, about the place he lives, about his landlady, and we must watch Peter's growing discomfort as he is constantly wrong-footed by Jerry. It is a tense and unrelenting play and builds to a sudden and shocking climax!
Stuart Douglas gives an unnerving performance in the role of the edgy, erratic stranger against Sean Burnside's polite, apologetic victim.
These are two strong plays, and both make emotional demands on the audience. They work well as a double bill in so far as they cover such similar themes and issues, and both illustrated with a dog metaphor. Hard hitting plays, powerfully performed.