“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go in a corner and cry by myself for hours.” – Eric Idle
Words. Funny things. They have the power to describe, to wound, to flatter, to conjure visions before your eyes and stir the emotions. They are the bones of our daily communication and a part of who we are. The way we choose to intonate, the words we automatically select to express ourselves, how much or how little we say, all play a part in forming our individuality.
But what if you take all those words away? For that is what we Filskit ladies have decided to do for our latest show, The Feather Catcher. This wasn’t our intention. We’d started with text then reduced it. Then we reduced it some more until we began to question whether we really needed any text at all. The words were sounding forced, trite and out of place. We realised we were saying quite enough already through the visual language of the piece.
It is easy to forget how little you need to make yourself understood on stage. A simple shrug of the shoulders, a bashful smile or a raised eyebrow can speak volumes. The audience will read what’s displayed in front of them without you having to explain yourself through speech. The success of last year’s silent movie The Artist demonstrated how popular the speech-free medium can be. It stole the show at the Oscars with 5 awards including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. A silent victory.
This is also being reflected on the stage. Puppetry is enjoying a strong wave of popularity, with often silent puppets winning the hearts of audiences. A fine example of this is Little Angel’s beautiful The Tear Thief. Whilst a charming yet simple voice-over punctuated the silence at choice moments, its noiseless protagonist left adults and children entranced. This was a piece that calmed and enchanted, and was executed with clarity and feeling.
We were fortunate enough to attend last year’s Take Off Festival in Durham and saw a large range of children’s shows. Interestingly, the shows that we collectively enjoyed were, on the whole, relatively text-free productions. Theatre O.N.’s Cocoon (German) and Katrina Brown’s Ets Beest (Dutch) were quirky, imaginative and engaging. Egg by Cahoots NI is another fine example of a piece that is moving and appealing without relying on grand speeches or dialogue to explain the action or the feeling.
Notably, we’ve discovered that a lot of exciting work of this nature is actually European. This may sound like a sweeping generalisation, but there is sometimes a theme that emerges of quite unusual, compelling work that is highly expressive, without speech. The fact that it contains little or no text means that there are no language barriers to consider. Little is lost in translation as there is a mutual, universal understanding of the work that grows from the physicality rather than any speech. There may be the addition of sounds or music to heighten the mood, but facial expressions and body language are just as captivating and meaningful to observe on stage.
Grand ballets at the Royal Opera House tell beautiful stories of swans and princesses all through the grace of their bodies. Why shouldn’t more theatre do the same? It may offer a brief respite from all the Shakespeare and Chekhov text-heavy productions out there. We’re thoroughly enjoying playing with this medium and are finding it quite exciting to explore – just don’t expect to see us doing any dubious mimes of being trapped in a glass box anytime soon.
Image: Don’t talk egyptian