The Unspoken at Barons Court Theatre
The Unspoken At Barons Court Theatre
“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.”
Unspoken, a one act play by Jody Medland covers well, if briefly, the complexities of abuse, and the origins thereof. A puzzle of a play, it almost brings more questions than it answers regarding its characters.
The story centres Maggie, a young blind girl trapped in her house by her abusive father, played by Hannah Tarrington for this run at the Baron’s Court Theatre. Facially and physically, Tarrington was unwaveringly convincing as being blind. Tarrington is an enigma, in that the most complex scene to act, the demise of her father, was her best scene. She genuinely and convincingly plays terrified, upset, humiliated, incomprehensibly loyal, along with a whole range of emotions that undoubtedly come with anyone living in an abusive situation, to a very high standard throughout the production. When Maggie and her father were on stage together, you couldn’t look away – tense and unpredictable, it was brilliant to watch their nuanced performance. Occasionally however, Tarrington’s soothing gentle voice became too soothing in monologue – when she was alone and thus less scared, there was less variation in her tone and volume, slowing the pace slightly, and leaving the audience more opportunity to disengage. I noted both Tarrington and Will Teller, who played Maggie’s father Jimmy, performed better in their scenes together than separately monologuing.
The power dynamic between Jimmy and Maggie was convincing, even expertly subtle at times, and scenes where this dynamic was present were undoubtedly their strongest – neither actor shying away from sections that were often difficult to watch. Tarrington, in particular, impressed with her commitment to humiliation on stage by her abuser.
Teller, was best at delivering anger. His breakdowns believable, and truly scary in such an intimate space, helped form the connection between Maggie and Jimmy instantly. He is utterly dislikable (a compliment, honest) from the first line. Or, the first sound effect, if we’re being pedantic. A slight fumbling of lines once or twice in speeches of anger could be spotted by the trained eye, but ultimately didn’t take anything away.
Elliot Blagden, who played both Dr.Rose, and the unseen Father Alderton, was most natural in his delivery, from the off. His lightly accented Father Alderton was convincing, inviting, and I found myself upset when his character didn’t come through the door for us to meet him face to face. He played the part exactly as the writing intended, and drew us in beautifully despite precious few lines.
Blagden’s Dr. Rose, as with Tarrington’s Maggie, was physically faultless. It wouldn’t have surprised me if upon meeting him, he did actually have a prosthetic limb from the 1970s! A memorable presence – to quote the programme – indeed.
Few things let the production down, but as I am decidedly picky, I do have to mention them. Although admittedly extremely difficult to pull off in such a close seated theatre, the punches and kicks could have been more convincing in timing from Teller and Tarrington. And in such a space, it was clear Jimmy lifted his head for Maggie to place the pillow beneath it, despite his death 30 seconds prior.
The ghost of Maggie’s mother on the radio, voiced by Lauren Santana, was pre-recorded, so the actors had to work very hard to connect emotionally and to keep it from becoming stilted. For me, it took away from the chemistry between Maggie and her mum. This also meant that Santana was at times, unconvincing, as she lacked the on stage connection with the actors.
As Medland, writer and director, pointed out to me, abuse can be a real divider in audiences. Some appreciate the black humour that is woven throughout, and some simply cannot. Understandable. But I praise Medland for his subtle humour, which never borders on distasteful. The interaction between Dr. Rose and Maggie was crafted particularly well, bringing a refreshing lightness to the production. The chemistry during which, between Blagden and Tarrington, was flowing and easy to watch.
Every character, though their actions on paper hard to believe, was justified in the text, and subtext. Jimmy’s abuse, Maggie’s decisions throughout, were all made believable by well researched writing. The script was engaging, and allowed the audience to come to their own conclusions of character, by not dragging a horse to water, which I particularly enjoyed. Although, I did find myself wishing for an Act 2, so we could explore deeper into their situation. When Jimmy’s redeeming qualities are alluded to, one can’t help but want to understand exactly how things got quite so bad.
Medland’s play covers the complexity of families, love, protection, bitterness, loyalty, trust, and does all this without patronisation. With a only a few kinks in actor’s pace, chemistry, and stiltedness, that could easily be worked out – this one hour piece was easy to enjoy, and I could see it being picked apart for study in drama studios across schools countrywide.
Review by Mims Melville
For tickets to The Unspoken visit here.