Review: The Unspoken
Image: Pen Works Media
Maggie, played by Hannah Tarrington
Jimmy, played by Will Teller
Father Alderton and Dr. Rose, played by Elliot Blagden
Northern England, 1972.
When the miners' strike threatens a state of emergency, a seemingly abusive coal miner fools his blind daughter into thinking they live a life of luxury.
However, his unorthodox methods serve as a device to protect her when he succumbs to a fatal disease.
For the first few minutes watching this play, it seems as though we might be witnessing something akin to one of those stories where women are kept prisoner for years by a perverted and demented man - the kind of excruciating and heart-wrenching story that has headlined newspapers in the past.
That may be what we're supposed to conclude and we do - at least initially.
But the ending seems to propose that something quite different is going on and that leaves a troubling sense that this short play seems to be condoning abuse - or at least rationalising it.
The play revolves around the relationship between Jimmy - a coal miner from the north of England - and his blind, grown-up daughter, Maggie.
Jimmy's wife is dead which has left him to care for his offspring on his own.
Jimmy has constructed a fantasy world for his daughter - telling her that they live in the poshest house in town that everyone is jealous of and that he is an architect.
In reality, they live in an ordinary house in a not particularly good part of town and, while Jimmy is out at work, Maggie is left in the house on her own.
Before we even lay eyes on the pair, we hear her being beaten by her father off-stage.
And we find her being slapped around later on too when her father's temper flares.
Later, Jimmy puts a collar and chain on his daughter to prevent her from getting near the door to open it to visitors.
In spite of this physical abuse, Maggie declares her love for Jimmy and seems to accept her punishments.
Directing his own play, Jody Medland starts and terminates his production with some almost epic orchestral music which would be more apt for a much larger venue and a much bigger dramatic enterprise.
However, his play requires much more intimate music to inject the appropriate emotional backdrop and atmosphere - a haunting or even a grating cello might fit the bill, but not a large musical ensemble.
And, even given the fantasy world that Jimmy inhabits, the idea of a coal miner drinking whisky at home is a step too far to swallow, especially for the early 1970s.
There's no doubt that the harshness of people's lives can cause them to be harsh, and even violent in return - brutality can lead to more which may be what has happened to Jimmy.
Mr Medland's play, though, seems to border on the proposition that 'the end justifies the means' - or, to put it a different way, that is the argument his main character would offer for the demeaning and cruel ill-treatment of his daughter.
The reality is that abuse and violence should never be explained away, justified or rationalised.
The brevity of The Unspoken - with a running time of just around an hour - may be a causal factor in leaving some matters unsatisfactorily explained and unresolved.
We needed to know a lot more about Jimmy and what drove him to be so brutal and totally misguided.
But other matters prove disquieting and disturbing.
The complicity of a doctor, who appears in the closing stages after Jimmy's death inviting - almost ordering - Maggie to be his wife, seems both alarmingly unprofessional and wholly unbelievable.
Moreover, the play ignores the nature of mining communities - where everyone would know everyone else's business and where people, especially women, would rally-round to care for someone like Maggie, and assist in their protection.
So I find it hard to believe that Jimmy would be able to keep the community unaware of his conduct towards his blind daughter.
Watching The Unspoken is an unsettling and uncomfortable experience, notsimply because of the violence that it portrays, but because it appears to be condoning actions which are wholly reprehensible and feels conceptually ill-conceived.
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ActDrop listing for Barons Court Theatre
Our show listing for The Unspoken
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