Monday, August 23, 2010

"Speechless" - Edinburgh Fringe 2010

This was Waldorf's choice on the basis of Sherman Cymru's "Deep Cut" being her highlight of 2008's Fringe, and with ticket availability at a premium we made a special trip through to catch this one at the Traverse. With that in mind, it's tempting to put our disappointment down to high expectations, but in truth I think it just wasn't very good.

Linda Brogan and Polly Teale's play features the true story of twin girls who refused to communicate with the outside world as they grew up in early 1980s Britain. The discovery that it was based on a book, 'The Silent Twins' by Marjorie Wallace, came as no surprise once I had seen it - it feels very much like a selection of chapters. And not even the best ones - a quick read of the Wikipedia article on the twins shows just how much more interesting this could have been.

There's nothing wrong with the performances, especially Demi Oyediran and Natasha Gordon who commit fully to their roles as June and Jennifer, but the central element of the girls' communication, in what is essentially their own language, is poorly conveyed. When alone, the audience see them communicating freely in perfect English and it seems as if they are just refusing to relate to others - it's only late on in the play it becomes clear that they are, in fact, unable to communicate. Surely it would have been better to isolate the girls from the audience by showing them clearly communicating with each other - just not in a way we could understand?

The play touches on racial tensions and awakening sexuality at times but it's difficult to see this as anything other than a very personal and unique set of circumstances. And given their peripheral nature in the tale as told here, the portrayal of the sex scenes seems unnecessarily gratuitous.

In any work based on 'true life' elements, accuracy is everything. Yes, poetic licence can be deployed, but only within the established framework. It's all too easy for anachronisms to creep in and shatter the audience's confidence in the illusion of truth. And I'm afraid here the inclusion of Caller ID or '1471' as a plot point in a scene set in the early-mid 1980s when it wasn't introduced until 1994 is unforgivable and cast doubt on exactly how much research investigation was undertaken into less easily verifiable matters.

I'm afraid it's difficult for me to view this as anything other than a good idea for a play thwarted by a series of bad choices that were made along the way - both in deciding which elements of the girl's story to focus on and in how to convey their isolation to the audience.

Speechless is a co production between Shared Experience & Sherman Cymru and runs at the Traverse until Sunday 29th August.
Image by Robert Day used with permission