Five Kinds of Silence

WILL KENNAWAY appreciates a harrowing, if occasionally clumsy, piece of theatre.

5 kinds of silence Corpus domestic abuse Homerton

Corpus Playroom, 9.30 PM, Tuesday 28th-Saturday 1st, £6/5

Not a cheerful one, this.

Five Kinds of Silence revolves around an abusive father, the three women whose lives he ruins, and how they deal with the legacy of what he has done to them. It is always demanding to ask actors to enact this sort of thing on stage—I’m reminded of one Titus Andronicus where we saw the actress playing Lavinia actually crying with the stress of it afterwards— but Ed Broadbent is very good throughout, and after something of a slow start the others manage to match him, too.

Though heavy in its focus, the play does of course have a few fairly amusing moments, and Sasha Brooks and Kate Reid, playing the two sisters, deal with the best of these particularly well, creating ripples of laughter in a harrowed audience.

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Of course, one of the most trumpeted features of this performance is its more physical aspects. It is advertised as ‘physical theatre’, and, indeed, the actors are constantly moving, alternately play-fighting, lifting, dancing, moving furniture, and, most disturbingly simulating incest. Some of this is a bit awkward. The play-fighting is probably the part that suffers most from this because in more than one scene the fighting is supposed to be a visual representation of a memory being recalled aloud by another character; unfortunately, what we see on stage does not always convincingly match up with what we hear.

Likewise, the father’s gun, which plays a fairly central role in a number of scenes, is handled a bit ham-fistedly, and the sound effects people don’t seem to be able to decide how to play it—at times it is fired to the sound of a weirdly quiet recording played through the speakers, and at others Ed Broadbent just shouts out ‘bang!’. Both of these solutions are a bit jolting and reduce the gravitas of otherwise very well acted moments. At the same time, though, the physical approach pays dividends in scenes where the father looms around the sisters menacingly or actually abuses them as they describe their experiences living with him or having nightmares about him. It is very powerful stuff, and really quite uncomfortable to watch.

The decision to use often quite loud, up-beat music to accompany quite heavy scenes is also one that does not always seem to be the right one—though at times it does work very well. It seems more generally that the director could have done well to pay as much attention to small details like the music, or the blocking, which, from where I was sitting near the front, at least, was not always ideal, as it seems has been paid to the delivery of the highly-strung dialogues between different family members and different councillors.

Ultimately, this performance’s high standard of acting and delivery is let down somewhat by a general clumsiness in the more physical aspects of the performance and in a few small details. That said, it is a powerful piece of theatre, and does the important things well.