The fantasy, medieval England of Silence - like theatre - inhabits the present moment more fully than we are used to. It's a shock to the system, a lovely one, to pay visit to a place of sustained stimulation and entertainment, and be introduced to the relationships that have time for nuance.
Jon Bradshaw, director, describes Moira Buffini as a "proven modern dramatist", suggesting that she has a formula and it works. Indeed, Buffini's comic writing is unapologetically algebraic: Ymma obligingly illustrates Agnes' oral storytelling with her vomiting, flies buzz cheaply around King Ethelred (Daniel Brennan's)'s bed, and characters develop catchphrases (Roger the Kyle McLachlan- like priest introduces himself wherever he can, as in 'Lo, Roger!').
With the laughs in place, Buffini builds on what jokes are even for. When Ymma (the dynamo, Brigid Lohrey) proclaims that she would rather be treated with cruelty than endure the ridicule of marrying a 14-year-old boy, the audience is in the position of seeing a bad joke played out, and questions its point. Whereas, when a characteristically involved monologue is exited with a one-word punchline, the joke supplies verfremdungseffekt , and it seems to close off a dream.
Or maybe Buffini's comedy allows her to get away with criticising a society in which women are told to 'count your blessings' for not being raped (twice), and in which masculinity, religion and monarchy are empty barrels that still wield power. The whole cast are exceptional in marrying the obscure setting of the play with the issues it elevates -- Brennan's transformation from a camp version of Jo Brand to a chilling one is reminiscent of politicians today shedding their whimsical charm and becoming maniacal missionaries. Eadric (Patrick Neyman), protector of hegemonic boundaries and advocate of mind control, would convince in arguing that silence is free of the snares of words; but Neyman had skilfully created a character impermeable to the audience's sympathy.
This is a play about power and strength, though the meaning of these terms change over its course - Ymma cannot shriek 'Agnes' loudly enough to keep her by her side forever, and Ethelred's caprices are patently not legitimated by divine right. What is constant is language and humour, brilliantly captured by the way lyrical speeches are discovered via mystic mushrooms and panic attacks in fields. You feel that Silence is a viable alternative to silence, one which matches its stakes with courage, humour and skill.