By Martha Bozic
The cast and crew of Fourth Wall Theatre’s Five Kinds of Silence is a mixture of DST veterans and freshers, but still contains enough big names to put it on the radar of anyone with an interest in theatre at Durham. Directors Hetty Hodgson and Damson Young were both involved in this year’s DST Freshers’ Play Alfie, with Hodgson directing and Young acting alongside current cast member Sarah Cameron. In contrast, the play itself is more obscure, although Hetty confesses to me that this is a play she and Damson “first came across in lower sixth”, and I’m glad to report that their dedication to it has not gone unrewarded.
Shelagh Stephenson’s in-yer-face play tells the story of a family, and of the years of abuse that Mary, Janet and Susan have endured at the hands of Billy (played by George Ellis). Elle Morgan-Williams plays Mary, Billy’s damaged and abused wife. Despite having years of experience with DST, Morgan-Williams admits that Five Kinds of Silence is something quite new: “I have never been in a play like this […] the physical element and subject matter [distinguish it from other Durham productions].”
As I watch the cast rehearsing, I am struck by the physicality of the actors. It may be just a few days until opening night, but in the few scenes I observe, I am already brought close to tears. Every movement is deliberate and choreographed. I sit in awe at what I am seeing, only for Hodgson to insist that part of the scene is re-blocked, making me wonder just how much better this piece could possibly get before its opening night.
Hodgson also promises an interesting use of staging for this play, as their plan is to decorate the set with family photos, to emphasise the “contrast with what people see and hear, and what actually happens.” This decision is echoed in the blocking of the scenes they show me, using physical theatre to capture snapshots of the family: as they would like to be seen, and as they really are. The control and poise of the cast executing this should also be noted. It really is a lesson in how to act.
Being staged in a physical theatre gives this show an element not often found in student theatre, as everyone is quick to point out to me, however this is not the only thing that sets it apart from other productions. Hodgson states that the audience should “feel sympathy for one of the most despicable characters.” Sarah Cameron, playing Susan, clarifies, “it’s harder to demonise someone when you know their background.”
The enthusiasm shown by the entire cast and crew for this play, and the natural relationships between them, are clearly demonstrated in the short discussion we have before rehearsal as they finish one another’s sentences and jump to answer every question I offer. When I ask for a takeaway message Cameron jokes “think your life is bad!” and while it is not hard to see what she means, I think it must take a cast like this to pull off such an extraordinary and abstract piece and leave people with more than just that impression.
Directors Hodgson and Young have taken what was originally a radio play and used physicality to make it perhaps even harder hitting than it was in its original form. As Young puts it, this is a play “about how characters fail to understand and help each other,” put forward in an understated, minimalistic way that will hopefully make the audience question their own lives and the way they see the lives of others around them. It is ‘blunt, darkly comic’ and almost absurd, but as a piece of theatre, it is set to be something very special indeed. If you watch only one more thing this term, let it be this.
‘Five Kinds of Silence’ will be performed in City Theatre, from Thursday, 23rd February, until Saturday 25th February at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: James Yallop