Theater: ‘Speechless’ speaks volumes about affection and alienation

The close end-on stage setting is perfect for this intimate exposé into the lives of June and Jennifer Gibbons, the silent Caribbean twins whose strange yet fascinating story has escaped the British public ever since Marjorie Wallace began to write about them culminating in her bestselling novel The Silent Twins, Phosile Mashinkila writes in this review for The Oxford Student. Speechless, a play by Linda Brogan and Polly Teale, relates the story of June and Jennifer by contrasting what the twins revealed to the outside world by being elective mutes with the inner world of hope, imagination and creativity that they created for themselves when alone together in their bedroom.

Demi Oyediran who plays June and Natasha Gordon who plays Jennifer vividly illustrate the disturbing physical and emotional bond between the twins in their exact mirroring of each other in everyday actions such as putting on their school uniform and getting ready for school. Through a scene at the beginning where they chase each other round their bunk-bed, shadowing one another in their movements yet trying to escape at the same time, one perceives the vicious circle in which the twins are trapped – their strong desire for freedom and autonomy and their equally strong dependence on each other that negates any possibility of the former. Moreover, a minimalistic set of which the main item is a metal bunk-bed reminds the audience of the literal prison where the twins will end up and the metaphorical prison of the twins’ silence.

Sound effects successfully draw you into the story of the twins: from the opening music of an eerie rendition of Jerusalem; the sing-song playground noises of the racist shouts and taunts endured by June and Jennifer; to the theme songs of television shows like The Generation Game and Dallas that brought nostalgic smiles to the older audience members, bringing the era alive. Period is a critical element to this play that explores the experience of the Caribbean immigrants who came to the UK in the 1950s’, 60s’ and 70s’ who thought that they were coming home to the Imperial Motherland but were welcomed with vehement racism and were quickly disillusioned. As the twins play with their blonde-haired blue-eyed Barbies and mock their parents’ Caribbean accents, one perceives their desperation to become part of a society that has consistently excluded them.

The unforeseen fortune of the recent August riots and the Royal Wedding coinciding with this play that includes both the Brixton riots and the wedding of Diana and Charles adds further gravitas, as emphasised by Demi Oyediran: “Watching footage of young people setting fire to vehicles and damaging public property resonated with the desire of the twins for destruction and release, in the belief they could assert power in a society they felt rejected from”. Indeed, as the play ends on the menacing crescendo sound of flames burning and the twins speaking in unison as they confess to setting fire to the secondary school which they were taken out of, one is left with a growing sense of empathy for the twins and a deeper understanding of the actions that are a result of their alienation and disaffection.

Four stars to an illuminating production of a complex yet fascinating story.

For the original report go to

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