Achim Oestmann enjoys the intense emotional power of Suffragette Theatre Company’s production of Five Kinds of Silence, the first at the refurbished Assembly Rooms Theatre.

Trauma can shut mouths and make life a living hell. This is what Shelagh Stephenson proves in her play Five Kinds of Silence in dissecting the traumatised minds of her characters: two daughters and their mother who are haunted by a family life permeated with domestic violence and sexual abuse by the father who himself suffers from traumatic experiences of his childhood. Suffragette Theatre Company with Aaron Rozanski as Director and Abigail Priestley as Assistant Director took on the challenging task of putting on this play, which is definitely worth a watch.

Upon entering the newly opened Assembly Rooms Theatre, smoke already drifts over the stage lit in dim purple red accompanied by minimalistic, melancholic piano music all of which perfectly sets the atmosphere for the next hour and forty minutes to come. Talking of music, whether as a soft piano music, a deep vibrating, or high-pitched buzzing sound, it supports the mood of the key moments within the production very well. However, it also has to be said that unfortunately it sometimes threatened to drown the voice of the actors, or was generally used to such an extent that at some points it ran the risk of wearing off as a theatrical device – a few more moments of tense silence would not go amiss. Apart from that, what else considerably enhanced the production was the stage set working hand in hand with the lighting. Two tables with chairs flanking the stage on both sides in the foreground, a bed and a shelf in the middle distance, and the slightly raised back of the stage all turned into separate spaces or different periods of time through precise spots as well as atmospheric colour lighting.

This eventually created the setting for the characters, brought to life by a cast of seven very strong actors, who worked well individually as well as with each other. It is Oscar Nicholson who powerfully introduces us to and throughout the play represents the feeling inner voice, the mind of the father Billy. As complement to Nicholson, Thomas Bracewell represents Billy’s other half, his outer self and skilfully masters changing between Billy’s vulnerable, sensitive sides being a child and later a lover as well as his violent, roaring, even mad outbursts as an abusive, broken father-figure. Giorgia Laird is convincing as mother Mary showing her as a lethargic, cautious woman who throughout the play unveils her struggle between her love towards her husband and her fear of him. Brilliantly played by Martha Wrench, the first daughter Susan reveals a character full of horror and desperation trying to cope with the tearing tension between the her need to speak and her haunting visions of her father. Together with the second daughter Janet, who is played by Helena Baker, the two outstandingly act in synchronisation with each other, forming a believable bond as sisters. Isabel McGrady as the therapist and Owen Kennedy as the detective both reliably perform their roles guiding the audience through the episodes of trauma.

Rozanski and Priestley have created a performance that achieves what it aims for in the programme: ‘the realistic depiction of humanity’. Not only do we witness realistic acting and raw emotion far away from any melodrama, but we cannot but see the human in the characters – the fact that we get to know Billy’s past, why he became the way he did, or the fact that we encounter the female protagonists as three-dimensional characters with room for tensions within them. It is a emotionally straining evening, that is beyond question, but it is worth it.

Five Kinds of Silence will be playing at the Assembly Rooms Theatre on 31st October and 1st November, 7:30pm.