Five Kinds of Silence

Tue 28th January – Sat 1st February 2014

reviews

Joseph Cooper

at 09:08 on 29th Jan 2014

0agrees

4disagrees

I will confess to not being a huge fan of Shelagh Stephenson; the script for 'Five Kinds' seems a little clumsy to me, stumbling and contrived. Nevertheless, this production was convincing, if a little inconsistent.

The minimalist stage worked very well for such a brooding, abstract piece, the addition of white walls helping to enclose the space, lending it a fittingly claustrophobic feel. The costume and lighting were similarly well-devised; the matching clothes for the sisters and ensemble and the lighting over Billy's monologues in particular. The acting was more inconsistent. Broadhead's Billy had a sinister, twitchy magnificence and gave a very convincing performance, dominating the stage in a mixture of violence and insidiousness. The monologues of the other characters were also well performed. Grief and guilt are difficult emotions to act – more difficult, I think, than psychotic madness – and Reid, Brooks and Cruwell captured it well when they had the stage to themselves. Cruwell in particular seemed superb in her character's six-year-old memories, but faded somewhat when playing the adult mother.

The use of music complemented these scenes rather enchantingly, and made them the most moving elements of the play - unfortunately, by quite a large margin. The dialogue seemed slow, unconvincing and ploddingly contrived, lacking the emotional lustre of the monologues and failing to move me. Whether it was the fault of the director for not allowing the cast to properly connect or the fault of the script I am unsure, but the actors, when alone on stage, seemed able to really drive into the role, the dashings of rhyme in their speech providing little gems of colour, but this was lost when they were joined in conversation. The presence of Billy in such scenes, however, did save a few, with Broadhead seeming to surround and suffocate the characters as they struggle to speak.

The staging was mixed; some of it worked beautifully, but some felt a little GCSE drama. The stage-fighting seemed rather foolish and other scenes seemed like they were trying just a little too hard to be creative. Others hit the mark – the scene where Billy describes the army camp and analysis of the family photo. The dark, disturbed monologues and the very physical-theatre dance were often incongruously beautiful together. The ensemble was frequently put to good use, the role-changing element it provided bringing life to the play and maintaining the enclosed feel. The use of props was also varied. The pen for signifying self-harming worked skin-crawlingly well, but the imaginary paper taken by the policeman, although in-keeping with the minimalist feel, felt more like they'd forgotten to pick it up than artistic choice.

The production had its moments, but it wasted a few as well. A little more consistency would have made it into a great production but, saved by its monologues and creative drive, it is a worthy attempt at a weak play script; moving, intriguing, enticing – but only in part.

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Comments

Grace Smith-Jones; 29th Jan 2014; 11:24:32

This is a grossly unfair review, of a frankly wonderful production. There script is not perfect, but my god did these students do well. I'm not affiliated with the university, but do enjoy going to occasional plays as I find the quality to be exceedingly high. Having done this play myself in A-Level Drama, I was intrigued to see a 'physical theatre' version - and it did not disappoint.

The reviewer describes 'stage fighting' - what he means is a beautifully choreographed depiction of domestic violence against men - which left me speechless. Cooper additionally criticises the acting, claiming it was inconsistent, before praising every member of the cast. It was hard to believe these actors were in their late teens. There was a contrast in pace between the interview scenes, and the longer more emotive monologues - but this was its charm. The interviews showed how hard it was for the family to connect with other people, before then expressing their inner feelings through some truly beautiful speeches - often accompanied with spell-binding movements.

I agree with a lot of what you say - the pen for self-harm was skin-crawlingly good, the monologues worked wonderfully with the physical theatre, and the music was fantastic. However you make broad criticisms - without specifying anything that was actually wrong with it.

I think it was a fabulous production - the cast and crew did themselves proud - and it is well worth a watch. The dark, harrowing themes with the beauty of the movements was captivating. Deserves at least 4*s - if not 5.

Marthe de Ferrer; 29th Jan 2014; 11:36:28

Thank you Grace for your comment - I was actually just about to write a comment underneath this review anyway, before I saw your post.

I'm the director of the show, and I was exceedingly proud of my cast and crew last night - who all gave fabulous performances. I'm delighted that you and Cooper enjoyed so many of the elements of the show - it is a tricky script to work with, and I am especially pleased Grace that you understood the pacing between the interview scenes and the monologues. I am really thrilled that you both praised the acting (even if Cooper does label it 'inconsistent', before celebrating all the performances) - and I am so so proud of my wonderful cast, who have worked so hard on this show.

Grace Smith-Jones; 29th Jan 2014; 18:09:25

Here's a review for the show that is worth reading: http://www.varsity.co.uk/reviews/6767

Joseph Cooper; 29th Jan 2014; 22:49:48

Grace - I take on board everything you have said. My one comment I feel I must give in response is if you found it 'hard to believe these actors were in there late teens' you expect much too little of what people this age can accomplish. Amatures in their teens can rival proffessionals with a good career under their belts, and so I judged them as I would a proffessional theatre group. It was far from perfect, but it was good. Three stars is not a bad review; that is a worthy performance and a credit to the production team.

Grace Smith-Jones; 2nd Feb 2014; 14:23:10

Joseph, you have unfortunately done yourself a disservice. By writing 'amatures' and 'proffessionals' - I don't think anyone will be able to take your comment or original review seriously. Although after you rated it as a weaker show than Richard III, I doubt anyone was going to take you seriously anyway...

Furthermore I saw the show once again on the penultimate night, for which it was sold out - and it was an even better performance. Apparently it is incredibly rare for a late-show to sell out. Well done to this fabulous group of talented students.

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