Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
“I hate the life I am leading now. But why do I say leading? I do not lead my life at all. It is pulled along by an invisible string. By whom? By what? A circumstance of the past. A force. I’m just an onlooker”
– June Gibbons.
“You are Jennifer. You are me”
– Jennifer Gibbons
Edinburgh Fringe is a brilliant place to be. No where else do you quite see the spirit and possibility of theatre at its most free as when you walk down the Royal Mile, every inch of which canvassed by pamphleteers and street performers. The city turns into a vast marketplace for the month of August, with the best and worst of today’s theatre on offer. Luckily I was able to locate the former with Sherman Cymru and Shared Experience’s joint effort: Speechless.
Shared Experience are a London-based theatre company who have come to distinguish itself through a series of critically honoured literary adaptations, notably their homage to Charlote Brontë, Eyre, which received acclaim for its unison of world-class acting and text. Co-artistic director Polly Teale’s script achieved praise for reaching eloquent depths in writing about the destructive effects of retreat into imagination in adversary to isolation, an artistic feat Teale would also achieve with her company’s follow-up – a project based on Marjorie Wallace’s The Silent Twins.
Wallace – an award-winning British journalist – wrote her book about twins June and Jennifer Gibbons, who just under the age of four took vows of silence and turned their backs on the rest of the world. The two girls became almost symbiotically linked, communicating only with each other. Furthermore, the girls’ family was among the generation of Caribbean migrants who had come to England with a sense of allegiance to the land and crown but were received with racial prejudice. Locked in a desperate struggle for expression, would such freedom be at the cost of their dichotomic existence? Armed furiously with typewriters, the twins submerge themselves in a world of literary composition, architecting annals of poetry and prose.
Speechless is one of the most powerful plays I have seen this year. Natasha Gordon and Demi Oyediran’s duet dances expertly through the sweet fancies of child-like imaginations and then pirouettes into a darker realm of instinctual violence. Beautiful acting. Gordon and Oyediran are supported by an assemblage of fantastic actors, including Alex Waldmann as the highly destructive Kennedy. Teale and Linda Brogan’s majestic script crowns the performance with an eloquent therapy for in-expression backgrounded by the explosive realities of England’s race riots.