The Silent Treatment (Traverse: 7 – 9 April ’16)

Photo: Lung Ha Theatre

Photo: Lung Ha Theatre

“A lot of barmy mischief making”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

Lung Ha Theatre Company is a leading theatre company for people with learning disabiities, in Scotland and internationally.

Shout it out: Lung Ha bucks trend! By the latest UK stats worker output per hour is down; well, not when you put 21 actors on stage and keep them acting all the while. All the more testing, when there’s little to no dialogue in Douglas Maxwell’s script of stage directions.

The Silent Treatment subjects its cast to keeping shtum – and alert. For the most part it is full on music and sound (by M J McCarthy) that cues the action. After Lung Ha’s Thingummy Bob with Cliff and The Shadows I had my old money on ‘Silence is Golden’ for some signature backing; but, no, that was 1967 and this play needs mobiles, scratchcards, emoticons and a chainsaw. Still, The Tremeloes’ lyrics have something relevant to say: here’s the second verse,

Talkin’ is cheap …
How could she tell? He deceived her so well.
Pity she’ll be the last one to know.

Billie (Nicola Tuxworth) thinks she has the secret to end all secrets. In fact, it’s her boyfriend (Stephan Tait) who’s got it and she won’t find it out until the end, when she will be speechless. In the meantime Billie goes with her little secret and sets out to try and wreck the sponsored silence that is being held to raise money for her mum, who’s in and out of hospital. Why would she do such a thing? That’s her secret and she’s not telling.

And, of course, no-one else is saying anything. The writing on the blackboard spells it out: SPONSORED SILENCE. No Phones (ignored), No Sleeping (impossible), No Eating (not when there’s a packet of Penguin biscuits around), No Knitting (didn’t see any), wheel noises and body noises don’t count (fair enough). It is the irrepressible Kenneth Ainslie as Toby who has real trouble with the rules but even he doesn’t speak.

Billie finds a helper in Stacey (Emma Clark) and the two of them, in and out of disguises and of the windows, do a lot of barmy mischief making under the stern nose of dominie Kitty (Kay Ann Jacobs); but it’s the four strong building crew (with foreman Mark Howie unmistakeably in charge) in high-vis vests and bowlers who do the heavy lifting, paying no attention whatsoever to Kitty’s gong.

The audience did not want to break the silence either. Hearty laughter seemed somehow disrespectful to Maria Oller’s close direction and the disciplined work of the performers on stage. With one great, if unholy, exception, the ingenious visual gags were met with appreciative chuckles rather than guffaws , and so when the end came – when it blossomed is actually more accurate – the applause was for hard study and successful work rather than for easy laughs.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 7 April)

Go to The Silent Treatment and to Lung Ha Theatre Company

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