And I And Silence
While it may not be easy viewing, TIM SQUIRRELL is impressed by a play that does not shy away from its own horror.
Corpus Playroom, 7pm, Tues 11th -Sat 15th June, £6/5
For the first half hour of And I And Silence, I wasn’t convinced. The superficial enthusiasm of the cast seemed a fine veneer to cover nerves and a slight discomfort with the script. The regional Americans accents were distinct and for the most part held well but the actors at times fell into the all too familiar trope of emphasising every second word which often comes part and parcel with accents with which they are uncomfortable. This made the dialogue at times feel stilted, the bitter hopelessness attenuated by the discomfort of the actors.
As the play descended into graphic depictions of physical and sexual violence, though, something odd happened. The cast seemed to ease into their roles, becoming one with their characters as they underwent ever worse emotional abuses. The watershed moment, perhaps, was the line ‘I dreamed I fucked my mother’, delivered with a calm sense of power by Rosie Cross as the older Dee. Admittedly, my immediate reaction to the line was a variant of ‘well, that escalated quickly’, but the rapid escalation from there on in to undertones and then overtones of sadomasochism, displays of sexual power and absolute desperation were incredibly well delivered. Hiding beneath the unease of the first half hour of the play were four fantastically capable actors, all of whom were capable of making the best (or the worst) of the everyday prejudices and discrimination which faced them.
And I And Silence takes place in 1950’s America, with parallel stories of the same characters (played by two different pairs of women) situated nine years apart in a prison and a hovel. They face discrimination for their class, sex and race; the bleakness of their situation is portrayed well by the minimalist setting. These issues of stigmatisation and abuse bubble away in the background for the majority of the play, only coming to the fore every so often, before reaching an incredible climax towards the end. The anti-parallel themes of hope and despair which run through the stories of the two sets of women were woven with consummate skill by Rosie Skan, the director, and the scenes depicting suicidal ideations and the re-enactment of sexual violence were genuinely disturbing, with the female-female portrayal of male-on-female violence only serving to heighten the impact of the action.
‘It’s not giving up, it’s giving in to a world where we almost are’. This line, delivered a good halfway through the play, epitomises the situation of the characters. They “almost are”, for their whole lives. They exist in awful circumstances, where their first and only option in the face of adversity is to pack up and run away. This feeling of entrapment was captured extremely well, with the absolute desperation of the older characters contrasting beautifully and horribly in the final scenes to reveal a portrait of the condition of working class women in segregated America that is truly shocking.
I didn’t like this play for the first half hour. In fact, I didn’t like it at all. I don’t think it’s a play you can truly like. However, it transformed during its hour and a half run into something powerful, something truly awful in its portrayal of a stark reality, and I cannot help but commend the cast and crew of the show for rendering real issues in a way that felt completely real. This play does not pull any punches, and for that it should be congratulated.