Daring, innovative and disturbing, Five Kinds of Silence is a play which seeks to shatter the silence around physical violence and sexual abuse.
OpticNerve's production of Shelagh Stephenson's Five Kinds of Silence is a powerful and "disturbing journey into the hidden vortex of familial violence and sexual abuse". The play delves into the lives of Billy, his wife Mary and their two daughters Susan and Janet, revealing how their individual experiences coalesce into their collective reality. Originally written for radio, it is a story propelled by a desire to expose the "destructive cycle of silence and abuse". As the story unravels, Emmaline Caroll as Janet and Ella Watson-Russell as Susan, eviscerate the devastation and distress their characters have endured as a result of their abusive father.
Five Kinds of Silence is visually-arresting. In director Tanya Gerstle's rendition of Stephenson's play, the character's horrendous reality is rendered multidimensional through the visual representation of the actors. Grant Cartwright as Billy, Anne-Louise Sarks as Mary, and Carroll and Watson-Russell physically manifest the anguish and torment which ensnares their characters through sophisticated movement and physical acting. In accordance with Gerstle's bid to elicit a visceral response from the audience, the characters contort and leer, shrink into distorted foetal positions and grip the ground with their bare nails. This visual manifestation of their emotional state makes their intense discomfort and grief palpable to the audience.
The disturbing Billy is deftly embodied by Grant Cartwright who savagely rattles the cages of memory and experience which imprison Mary, Susan and Janet. Cartwright makes his entrance by bursting onto the stage and prowling like a dog. Convulsing and shuddering, his encapsulation of the abusive Billy is revolting and terrifying. Ella Watson-Russell portrays Susan with haunting numbness and presence. Her disclosures, which pivotally disrupt the silence that has shrouded her family life, are tactfully-pitched and delivered with forceful sincerity. The continual oscillation between Billy and Mary's childhood experiences of abuse and Susan and Janet's present abuse operate to both delineate and undo the tightly wound cycle of abuse in the play.
OpticNerve's production of Five Kinds of Silence was bolstered by its effective and apt choice of venue. During the course of the play, the space of Fortyfivedownstairs is repeatedly re-visioned and transformed. Seemingly harmless and previously unnoticed fixtures are employed by the cast, making the space of Fortyfivedownstairs suddenly eerie and garish. Like the use of movement and physical acting, this inventive use of space creatively extends the themes of silence and complacency, situating the audience in the action and grabbing their attention.
Five Kinds of Silence resonates with its radio origins. Stephenson's dialogue reverberates with strong and razor-edged language, capable of delineating the story while also evocatively inciting an emotional response. However, it is the emboldened performances in Five Kinds of Silence which make it such a thought-provoking and memorable piece of theatre. OpticNerve's Five Kinds of Silence is an exceptional and multifaceted production, replete with intelligence, talent and courage.
OpticNerve Performance Group
Five Kinds of Silence
by Shelagh Stephenson
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates/Times: 26/6 – 6/7, Tues – Sat 8pm, Sat/Sun 5pm
Cost: $25 Full / $20 Concession
Bookings: 03 9662 9966 or www.fortyfivedownstairs.com