“Five Kinds of Silence” by Shelagh Stephenson
Nottingham New Theatre
Nottingham New Theatre
The story of a family who try to free themselves from the power of the vicious Billy, who abuses his wife, Mary, and their children, Susan and Janet. It looks at the idea of abuse being continued from childhood, we discover that Billy was himself abused, and has replayed this with his own children.
The story unfolds through interviews with police and psychologists, with the absent Billy a sinister presence throughout. Shelah Stephenson’s play won both the 1996 UK Writers Guild's Best Original Play award and the 1997 Sony Award for Best Original Drama.
Every time I come away from a New Theatre production, I wonder if the next one will be able to match up to the one that I'd just been to see, and yet again it does.
I deliberately didn't read too much about the play beforehand, just the bones of the story, which in itself is chilling. What those bones do not prepare you for is the intensity of this play, and that is mostly all down to the actors, director, production and technical team.
The part of Billy is played by Francis Simmons. From the very start we knew that Billy was a complex character. The sneering, the intense joy he took in causing pain and hurt to others as well as the abuse that he had endured as a child all had me torn about him, But only a small percentage of the abused turn into the abuser. Francis' constant eye contact with members of the audience also created that uneasiness, and the lighting gave him quite a satanic look, and especially as the image through the eyes of the family after they had killed him as he appeared to haunt his wife and daughters.
This role is Francis' first at the New Theatre, but his charisma and confidence show that he must have had acting experience prior to tonight.
Lara Cowler played the Mother, Mary, and what a performance. The nervousness, the flinching, the natural protectiveness for her abused daughters, at times she looked like she was going to burst into tears. All these qualities made me believe in the character and won you over, showing that Lara had got beneath the skin of the abused wife and mother, something you can't draw experience from at such a young age. You just wanted to go and give her a hug.
Chloe Richardson played Susan, and Sophie Curtis played the other daughter Janet. Again these are roles you can't perform from experience, but both gave incredibly emotive and tear-jerking performances. You didn't need a blow by blow description of what the sisters went through to picture in your mind the evil that Billy put them through.As with Francis, this is Sophie's debut for NNT, and again her naturalness and confidence as an actor shone.
Also making their debut was Sam Andre-Paul as the multi-roled Psychiatrist/Doctor and Lawyer. the female counter to Sam's part was played Angharad Davies. Both actors convincingly but empathetically chipping away at the mother and daughters' history to get to the root of what happened prior to Billy's murder.
The story is beautifully, and at times poetically written, something I wasn't quite expecting from such a dark topic. Bringing that beauty and darkness out is something that Director Edward Wiseman-Eggleton has done exquisitely along with his well chosen crew of Jonathan Taylor Davies as Producer, Jess Donn as Assistant Producer, Rohanna Brown (Technical Director), Sam Osborne, who also helped to create that eerie atmosphere as Lighting Director,Tara Prasad (Sound Designer).
I must applaud Tara'a work because the sound was so subtle but evocative. In this recipe for an amazing play, the sound was like the pinch of salt in cooking. Too much would have spoiled the recipe, not enough and it could have been lost, but when it's just perfect you don't notice it but you know it's in there, and balanced either way would upset the subtle taste.
I've seen some amazing productions at NNT and this is way up there. I love new plays that I've neither seen nor heard of and it excites me that NNT feed my hunger for plays like this, and at the same time do it so well.
An incredibly hard hitting and emotional story which I'm sure leaves these actors quite drained, physically and emotionally. No wonder both Director and Producer state in the programme how proud they are of the cast and crew because if I were in their shoes, so would I.
“Five Kinds Of Silence” is at the Nottingham New Theatre until Tuesday 28 November 2017