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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

In The Absence Of Silence
Chickenshed Theatre and YouTube  November-December 2020

This one-hour piece of verbatim theatre was assembled by Chickenshed Theatre from interviews and group sessions with abused women and shaped by playwright Dave Carey. First produced by Chickenshed in 2016, it is now available online.

The multi-camera video is excellent, though the sound is weak, and you will find yourself relying largely on the subtitles.

Five women in or recently escaped from abusive marriages have a picnic on a beach, a fictional premise adequate for allowing believable sharing of stories and support.

It is noticeable that there is very little talk of physical violence, and in fact the dominant theme of the play is that the real and most damaging abuse is psychological and spiritual. From the constant vile insults, through the you-make-me-do-this accusations, to the theft of a sense of security and even of self, the women bear scars not visible on their bodies.

'I'm not me any more,' says one, while another fears for the lessons her children are learning. In the longest speech of the play one woman tries to explain to herself how she can still love the man who abuses her, and even those who have divorced and moved on know he is out there somewhere.

A second important message of the play is the immense value of support from those who understand. Director Joseph Morton illustrates this visually in a beautiful sequence in which one woman's story of running away morphs into a dance and mime in which the others literally carry her to freedom.

But it is also there in the moments, carefully inserted at frequent intervals, in which the women can briefly forget their separate histories and just enjoy each other's company.

It might be one small criticism of the play that, as my description may have suggested, it does change modes and tones with each new sequence, rather than finding a single performance vocabulary capable of expressing it all.

A greater limitation is that, for all its moments of power, the play never really escapes the feel that it should be followed, like many television shows, with 'If you have been affected by any of the issues in this program...' (and indeed the theatre programme provides such contacts).

Still, In The Absence Of Silence says what it wants to say, the performances by Charlotte Bull, Elsie Lyons, Jojo Morrall, Louise Perry and Holly Skinner are impeccable, and the hour is a powerful one.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  In The Absence Of Silence - Chickenshed  2020