Shared Experience’s Speechless tells the dark and intriguing real life tale of June and Jennifer Gibbons, identical twins who refuse to speak to anyone but each other.
Born to parents recently settled in 1960’s Britain from the Caribbean, June and Jennifer are brought up on an RAF base (their father, unseen in the piece, is a pilot) mainly by their church-going mother. Attending a school where they are the only non-white children, the twins navigate their adolescence without any real sense of place, refusing to talk or make eye contact with everyone but each other. As Jennifer and June become increasingly isolated from the world, their dynamic of co-dependency becomes suffocating, dangerous and ultimately destructive.
Whilst Natasha Gordon as Jennifer and Demi Oyediran as June give intense and brooding performances, their playful energy in the childhood bedroom scenes shows vulnerability and allows the audience to journey with them: what seems like a game in the beginning rapidly descends into something much darker.
Anita Reynolds as the twins’ mother Gloria gives a poignant performance as a woman in an impossible situation. Home-sick yet desperate to fit into a new society, Gloria’s plea to her daughters to come downstairs on Christmas day is heart-breaking, in a stroke of beautiful writing from Linda Brogan and Polly Teale.
Liz Ranken’s movement direction is subtle and controlled, lending an eerie quality to the young twins’ behaviour from the outset, whilst Naomi Dawson’s shadowy and oppressive design says much about the position that the Gibbons family find themselves in.
The piece focuses on June and Jennifer’s teenage years, taking the audience through a string of events that leads to the twins engaging in extremely disturbing, dangerous and criminal behaviour. For those who know nothing of June and Jennifer Gibbons before the show, the ending may be slightly unsatisfying, as nothing is revealed of the twins’ eventual fate.
Speechless sets the tale of a group of individuals within a broader narrative, contextualising the Gibbon’s experience within the highs and lows of the 1980s including the Brixton race riots and Charles and Diana’s wedding . A modern day tragedy that tells a bigger story of Imperialism, promise and disappointment.