Theatre should be talked about; good theatre should be debated. The Unspoken by Jody Medland, ironically, leaves much to be said. Performed in the basement beneath a restaurant, it is play that encapsulates the escapism of theatre: walk down the stairs and in to another story, albeit a dark one.
Against the bleak political background of the Miners’ Strike, is the confused unravelling of a father/daughter relationship. Being blind, Maggie (Hannah Tarrington) navigates the world by spoken word, whether that be through the radio, her mysterious neighbour, or most strikingly, through Jimmy (Will Teller), her “Papa”. As these narratives come in to conflict, Maggie communicates through tentative monologues, never able to freely vocalise her own story. She is a character confined to both the physical room that the audience sees, and the one in her mind – a fabric of voices from the outside world, real and phantom. There is a particularly uncomfortable moment when Maggie crawls on to the dimly lit floor, her father watching, and we are frightened for her character. With one set, the audience is trapped in much the same way as Maggie. The shadows behind the door remain as shadows.
However, whilst Tarrington does well in her haunting performance, it is Teller that commands. In his surface villainy, Jimmy functions as the most interesting character, torn between his identity as a father, a miner, even as a mortal. Occasions of weakness, such as the conversation with his dead wife, humanise him in ways the other characters lack. It doesn’t excuse his actions but Medland isn’t asking you to forgive. We are not supposed to enact moral judgement, and it works brilliantly. Teller’s performance is impressive in its harshness. Unsurprisingly, after his absence the play loses its intensity and shifts from something thriller-like to something trying to be endearing. The introduction of Dr Rose in the final minutes is welcomed but doesn’t satisfy. A damsel in distress, Disneyfied perhaps, and yet, we cannot help but speculate upon the unspoken.
The published script opens with: “To those searching for light at the end of the tunnel” – a statement to be warmly accepted or debated. In a world of falsity, The Unspoken questions whether it is what we see or what we hear that determines what we know. Medland’s conclusion had me unsure of an answer. Maybe this is the answer? Either way, go and see (or hear) for yourself.
The Unspoken is playing at Barons Court Theatre until the 22nd of September. For more information and tickets, see here.