Five Kinds of Silence at the Lyric Hammersmith
This poignantly titled play paradoxically gives plenty to shout about. The title refers to the wall of silence that surrounds a family - a husband and wife and their two adult daughters - and that of the community outside of them who are oblivious to the kind of hell that they re enduring.
At the beginning of the play, the two daughters, 36-year-old Susan and 34-year-old Janet, kill their father with his shotgun. Dad has abused the pair sexually as well as emotionally all their lives, but even killing him doesn't end his pervasive influence on their lives. His malign presence hovers over the play, both in flashbacks to the kind of abuse that precipitated their action and in flashforwards as his ghostly presence lingers with them.
In Shelagh Stephenson's beautifully modulated play, originally written for the radio, the aggressive control exerted by the father over his family is chillingly underplayed in a way that makes us see how they have all come to regard their lives as strangely normal.
The play is bravely unsentimental, and so Tim Pigott-Smith's performance as the father is quietly impressive for being unsympathetic and unlikeable but not one-dimensional.
The three women in Ian Brown's articulate production are even more astonishing. Linda Bassett, one of England's most impressive but underrated stage actresses, is wonderful as the mother. Gina McKee, a terrific television and film actress, establishes her theatrical credentials with a stand-out performance as the older sister. And Lizzy McInnerny is no less impressive as her sibling.
Inevitably bleak but also very involving, Five Kinds of Silence short, sharp play provides plenty of food for thought.