Chickenshed have maintained an active presence online during the pandemic, releasing a number of videos of their annual Spring shows which have featured hundreds of young performers in pieces which have looked at topical issues throughout the last decade. For their latest streamed offering they have taken a different approach, although the commitment to social issues remains. For In The Absence Of Silence takes a long hard look at domestic violence, a subject that will be all too real for any number of people as we enter a second lockdown and some victims become trapped in their own homes.
Sandra, Lauren, Kelly, Shirley and Lizzie are having a get together on a beach. The women are all much in the same age bracket (other than Shirley who is a little older) and, at first glance they may seem to be quite a disparate bunch. They enter first just running through their daily rather ordinary routines but gradually it emerges that what binds them together is that they have all experienced systematic abuse in their home situations. Gradually their individual stories emerge either through dialogue or through breakaway monologues addressed directly to the audience. The tales they have to tell are chilling; when violence can rear its head simply because the wrong sort of teaspoon has been used, we can only conjecture what might result when something of real significance takes place. However, we also begin to see how resilient the various characters have become in the face of adversity and more particularly what strength they draw from their collective support. For a piece that deals with such a difficult subject, though, there are plenty of life affirming moments and the comical badinage that the women share takes on a life of its own. It’s perhaps ironic, given the subject matter, that Johnny Depp is singled out as an object of desire.
There isn’t really a central character although the plight of Lizzie perhaps stands out. Clearly an educated person who has looked into feminism she too is caught up in a cycle of abuse from which she finds it difficult to break free. Even on this day off with her support buddies she is subjected to a steam of abusive texts from her partner – as these are projected onto the back of the stage we are left in no doubt as to their content. There are anxious moments when she wanders off from the group at one point and we see how much the others really care for her and each other. The quintet are played by Charlotte Bull, Elsie Lyons, Jojo Morrall, Louise Perry and Holly Skinner who are all excellent and give the impression they have worked as well as a team as their characters have done within the narrative. Each has their moment to hold our attention as they tell us of the effects that their situations have had on them and, particularly, their children.
There are just the five performers in this show and none of them fit the usual age profile of Chickenshed performances. This is because the piece was developed out of workshops on the topic of domestic violence which took place throughout Wales in 2012/14 and out of which the drama gradually emerged. The final play was formed and shaped by writer Dave Carey and given life onstage by directors Christine Niering and Joseph Morton. There is little of the expected collaging and organised choreographed movement that is usually associated with the company’s work and the final piece bears more of a resemblance to a straightforward play than usual. I think that is quite right because the nature of the particular subject calls for a more personalised approach than some others of the company’s shows.The play is briskly directed has a good momentum which propels the narrative forward. The beach setting (Angela Simpson) is very well realised and an effective choice as it represents the freedom and light that these women cannot find at home. The lighting designed by Andrew Caddies alters subtly to suggest the different parts of the day in which the various short scenes take place and it is used well to spotlight the various individual monologues. Chickenshed show once again that are unafraid to tackle difficult topics and to do so in a manner which engages but is never preachy. If you’ve yet to see one of their performances, you could do no better that starting here; it is a play with real heart.
In The Absence Of Silence is available on Chickenshed’s You Tube channel – click here
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