Bute Theatre, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Looking out to the distant exterior world through binoculars, silent adolescent twins Jennifer and June Gibbons are poised in a poetic moment that sums up their predicament. Like the view from the binoculars on which they rely upon to fuel their obsessions, the twins’ perspective of the world is entirely made up of two separate parts. Each of these may absorb part of a scene, but until they are are brought together the view will never be complete.
And so it is perhaps not surprising that Speechless continues this metaphor with an intense focus on close-ups and visual details. Identical to each other, yet alienated because of their difference, the girls turn to shockingly detailed mimicry where they allow themselves to become emerged in anything from the growing influence of the television, to the impact of music and celebrity.
It is not surprisingly that they have become so obsessed by what they see. The girls are brought up in an ambitious West Indian family desperate trying to settle in the Britain of the early 1980s. With a backdrop of the Brixton riots and the wedding of Charles and Diana, the setting is a Britain that is ready for change yet is clinging on to a nostalgic fairytale of purity. The girls attempt to negotiate the oppositions within their culture through play.
However, as they encourage themselves to act parts in a weirdly accurate toy world, they become increasing distanced from the society they echo. But the games aren’t just the cause of their isolation; they also work on-stage as indicators of the prejudice the girls face and unconsciously perpetuate. Indeed, as the twins act out the ritual of British society with their white Barbie dolls, they reveal their already deeply ingrained cultural attitudes. Although the twins’ observations certainly raise the odd giggle from the audience, their accuracy in mimicry illustrates two young women mapping out their own entrapment within cultural notions.
Richly allegorical in its take on inclusion, this real-life case story has been moulded into a moving universal tale of belonging. As the twins struggle to find honesty in any social association or artificial process of reform, their dark internalised relationship speaks volumes about the contradictions and prejudices within the fabric of our society.