Poetic drama at Abbey Theatre gives powerful insight into domestic violence

Rehearsal pictures for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre.

Rehearsal pictures for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre. - Credit: Jon Schick

"This is not real, this is not true, can’t you see it in my eye?" asks Janet when she begs onlookers to see the misery behind her smiles, in Shelagh Stephenson’s Five Kinds of Silence.

The play, which opens at the Abbey Theatre this week, tells the story of a family terrorised by a father.

Billy controls with a regime of harsh rules and fearful punishments.

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence on the Abbey Theatre.

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence on the Abbey Theatre. - Credit: Jon Schick

The role is played by Rory Byrne, who asks: "Billy claims to love his family. So why does he make their lives a living hell?

"Are there any mitigating circumstances to explain or excuse Billy’s behaviour? Or is he just a monster?"

Five Kinds of Silence is produced in the Abbey Theatre’s Studio, making the production intimate and atmospheric, and – within social distancing guidelines –allowing the audience to feel the claustrophobia of the characters’ lives.

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. - Credit: Jon Schick

Lianne Weidmann, who plays Billy’s eldest daughter, Susan, says: "This is the most challenging role I’ve played since joining the Company of Ten.

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"Trying to get into Susan’s head has been a real journey for me. She’s such a strong yet emotionally damaged character. I want to do her justice."

And justice is, indeed, what this family needs. Susan and Janet are driven to kill their father.

Will they go to prison for their crimes?

A team of psychiatrists, lawyers and police surround the family to try to discover the events that led to the murder.

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre.

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre. - Credit: Jon Schick

Questions are asked. The answers given are sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, always astonishing.

Rachel Barker, the company’s deputy stage manager, has accompanied the cast on their journey from the start.

"There are some truly spine-tingling moments," she says.

Elena Markham, who plays Mary, Billy’s wife and the mother of Susan and Janet, adds: "As a mother of two daughters myself, I’ve found it almost impossible to understand how Mary is unable to protect her daughters from her husband.

"But the play explores Mary’s own childhood as well as Billy’s and it’s in these flashbacks that I’ve begun to see how this cycle of abuse can occur. As Mary says, 'let the blight end here!'"

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans.

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. - Credit: Jon Schick

Shelagh Stephenson’s painful yet poetic drama Five Kinds of Silence is a striking addition to the Abbey Theatre’s new season.

Performances take place in the Abbey Theatre Studio from Friday, October 8 to Saturday, October 16 at 8pm, with a matinee on Sunday, October 10.

To book tickets please go to www.abbeytheatre.org.uk or call the box office on 01727 857861.

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre.

Dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Five Kinds of Silence at the Abbey Theatre. - Credit: Jon Schick


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