Silenced

10 May

Linda Nicholls-Gidley’s Silenced explores how women have been robbed of voice and the necessity of permitting them to speak.

Silenced is verbatim theatre, constructed from the testament of women, and performed by an ensemble of six actors.

Director Carly Fisher elicits good performances from her entire cast – Nola Bartolo, Chanika Desilva, Mariama Whitton, Sonya Kerr, Deborah Faye Lee and Nicholls-Gidley – and in combination with a fascinatingly unconventional script, this is powerful, thought-provoking theatre.

At times, it feels as though an oddly undramatic choice predominates. A group of women share their stories of being silenced. There is no tension between these women. Their stories are not detailed anecdotes, but rather abstractions, generalisations, sometimes expressed in distancing theoretical language. It’s as though this avoidance of the specific is an enactment of one of the more pernicious ways in which dissent is silenced – by reducing it to an inarticulate rage. But this linguistic choice serves another purpose; the abstract language creates a hard, unforgiving surface, like ice over a frozen lake – and the moment a skate breaks through the emotional shock is palpable. Nicholls-Gidley beautifully performs two heartrending monologues, one on prejudices regarding body weight, and another on post-natal depression. With affecting poignancy, Kerr presents another on the need to plan a secret escape route from a threatening male. Desilva shares an exuberantly satirical assertion that the character she portrays will neither be defined by her ethnic heritage nor denied its riches.

The dominant stylistic choice is also disrupted in other ways. Comic skits revisit advertising of the past, holding up historical misogyny for gleeful inspection and asking us whether reports of its death are indeed overstated.  On another occasion, the script returns to conventional dramatic form, positing opposing voices as the women discuss the behaviour of a female work colleague – is she justly assertive or just aggressive? (Another tension the script posits is between different types of silence, that which is chosen, such as meditation, in contrast with that which is enforced. Indeed the theme of silence and speech is such a gloriously rich field that the play ensures lively post show discussion: Is being allowed to speak the equivalent of being heard? Is our purpose in speaking to share our stories, to represent our truth, or is speech more like a tool we employ to impact the world, closer kin to hammer than camera? And are there times when silence is actually a moral obligation? A piece of theatre that evokes these questions is a treasure.)

But perhaps, on the simplest level, a group of women sharing their stories with one another is an invaluable model of what our society desperately needs –  a commitment to listening.

Paul Gilchrist

Silenced by Linda Nicholls-Gidley

Flight Path Theatre until Fri May 13 (as part of the Everything But the Kitchen Sink Festival)

https://www.flightpaththeatre.org

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