Speechless @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

cast list
Natasha Gordon, Demi Oyediran, Alex Waldmann, Anita Reynolds, Emma Handy

directed by
Polly Teale
Shared Experience is a company probably best known for their stage adaptations of novels. Their previous productions include adaptations of Jane Eyre and War and Peace and they usually like to focus on the psychological aspect of the female characters, something that was particularly evident with their Eyre, which notably conflated Jane with the moaning, writhing mad woman in the attic.

Theres a parallel to be drawn between that production and this, their latest, staged with Cardiffs Sherman Cymru.

Both plays feature two women tied by complex, invisible threads, the line between them blurred, only Speechless is not based on a novel but on Marjorie Wallaces book ,The Silent Twins, about, the identical twin daughters of a family from the Caribbean who slowly withdraw into themselves completely, choosing to communicate only with each other.
June and Jennifer Gibbons grow up in a world where white faces are few; ugly, racist taunts are still commonplace playground parlance, and the Brixton riots are on the verge of exploding. Its a hostile, alienating world and they respond in kind. Only in their bedroom do they come alive, re-enacting the Golden Jubilee with a cast of (all white) Sindy dolls and tapping out novels on twin typewriters.

As they become more withdrawn they are sent to a special unit where their psychiatrist tries and fails to make them resurface. Silence suggests calm and tranquillity but this is not the case with the twins, they are volatile, brimming with rage and unafraid to act out what they cannot express. They become increasingly delinquent in their behaviour, thanks in part to the influence of an American boy who lives on the same RAF base.

Natasha Gordon and Demi Oyediran are compelling as the twins. They are sullen and fire-eyed in their silence; blank yet sinister, and both manage to convey something of that eerie quality of twinness that was captured by Diane Arbus and subsequently by Kubricks The Shining. They are also prone to physical outburst, tumbling and wrestling and contorting on the floor in a knotting of limbs, as they seemingly attempt to obliterate the other, to consume the other. There is a strong sense that each is, not only, the others constant and only companion but also their prison; there is an ongoing struggle for dominance between them and their closeness stops them from being free.

Linda Brogan and Polly Teales play creates a plausible picture of the twins world but it struggles in its attempts to fully recreate a bond so intimate and intense that not even prison could break it. The production responds by being rather too blatant in places and making forced juxtapositions. Their obsession with Kennedy the American boy (played by a brash Alex Waldmann), and the criminal behaviour it triggers, feels mechanical in execution, a necessary device to steer the story to a point of conclusion.

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