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And I and Silence

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The final play in the Finborough’s trilogy of works by women writers, Naomi Wallace’s And I and Silence is the story of best friends, Jamie and Dee, young women struggling against deprivation and despair in 1950s America. The action shifts back and forth between then, the point at which Jamie and Dee first become friends while serving time for murder, and now, nine years after that initial meeting, where we observe the women’s lives on the outside.

The two time frames are beautifully integrated, both textually and in terms of director Caitlin McLeod’s elegant staging. The two pairs of actors, playing present and past Dee and Jamie (Sally Oliver and Cat Simmons, and Lauren Crace and Cherrelle Skeete respectively), tag-team on and offstage, sharing more of each others’ space as the play go on. Cecelia Carey’s ingenious design, along with Elliot Griggs’s flawless lighting, sees the Finborough’s intimate playing space transformed from squalid hovel to bare prison cell and back again with just a couple of prop changes. In a very effective piece of staging, Carey has Young Dee and Young Jamie always in sight, even while the focus of the action is their older selves – we may change and grow as time passes, but we can never fully leave behind the people we once were.

Wallace is dealing with bleak subjects here – racism, sexual abuse and the horrors of incarceration – but And I and Silence is tremendously subtle in its exploration of these ugly truths. Wallace’s dialogue has a quickfire poetry about it that keeps the play’s tone light-hearted and all four actors do a remarkable job keeping their performances playful while evoking the despair that bubbles just beneath the surface. An extraordinary achievement from all involved.


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