By Adele Cooke
I’ll be honest – it’s difficult to know what to expect when seeing Shelagh Stephenson’s so called “in-yer-face production” of Five Kinds of Silence. Discussing themes of alcoholism, abuse, depression, grief and self-harm, from the offset it promised to be a gritty show. However, directors Damson Young and Hetty Hodgson capably subvert these expectations, bringing much-needed life and personality to the stage. With fresh faces and can-do attitudes, it’s unnoticeable this is Young’s first time behind the scenes instead of before them. Already boasting an impressive repertoire in shows such as Alfie, Young is no theatre rookie. The clear friendship and cooperation between the pair is evident, having worked together in DST, and in school. Yet, it’s their clear talents when commanding the stage that makes both Hodgson and Young’s first play a success.
Five Kinds of Silence focuses on the lives of three women, Mary, Janet and Susan as they endure relentless abuse at the hands of husband and father Billy. Showing their individual voices through monologues, Hodgson and Young add a new dimension using synchronisation. This is highly successful as this allows the audience to clearly visualise the shared torment of the three women. Although, sadly at times it was moderately out of time. Thankfully Elle Morgan-Williams, Sarah Cameron and Elana Kaymer don’t disappoint, creating a highly moving representation of domestic abuse and rape. George Ellis as Billy was also particularly chilling by running his hands over his daughters, which left goosebumps on the skin of his audience. Morgan-Williams deserves a notable mention too, with a highly effective portrayal of both grief and torment during her monologues, capturing the audience’s sympathy. Surprisingly, at times the play even manages the comic, a necessary relief from heavy content that could easily drag the drama down. Managing to find humour in death, the play indulges perfectly in my dark sense humour. By deliciously teasing out comedy in lines including “you never think to look at him and think he had been shot,” the play received well-deserved laughs from its audience.
City Theatre provided the perfect location, delightfully intimate yet large enough to accommodate the magnitude of the performance. It’s clear to see the attention to detail Young and Hodgson have created. With a clear navy, red and white colour scheme in both costume and setting, visually the play is extremely satisfying. Minute pieces of setting were also considered in great detail, such as photos of a seemingly happy family and labelled shelves covered in tin cans. Moreover, by giving an almost clinical atmosphere through the use of white wallpaper, Young and Hodgson allowed the drama to take centre stage. Sadly, my main criticism is lighting. Whilst making a bold choice through the use of strobe lighting in the final scene, it was more headache inducing than effective. Stylistically their motive was evident, but for me it seemed unnecessary. Just like their staging, a more simplistic lighting set up may have given the dialogue greater focus.
Overall this was a successful first production for Young and Hodgson, and a clear illustration of their theatre prowess. Without a doubt we will see the return of this duo to the stage in the future, with guaranteed further successes. Supported by a strong cast, staging and gripping plot, the play is something Fourth Wall Theatre should be proud of. I can say with confidence this is the beginning of promising theatrical careers for all involved. Although the play may be entitled Five Kinds of Silence, it speaks volumes.
‘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: Fourth Wall