It has become traditional for Lung Ha Theatre Company – Scotland’s principal theatre group for people with learning disabilities – to present at least one large show every year that gives a role of some importance to every member of the ensemble. This is by no means an easy task, requiring both a script and a performance space capable of supporting nearly 20 performers of varying abilities and mobility. Nevertheless, such has been the quality of Lung Ha’s recent work, under the nuanced guidance of Artistic Director Maria Oller, that the company now finds itself welcomed on some of Scotland’s most important stages, including Glasgow’s Tron Theatre and Edinburgh’s Traverse.
While a few performers’ movements are somewhat stilted, Janis Claxton’s choreography overall is effective, with several cast members excelling in their own little character-defining moments.
The quality of Lung Ha’s work also attracts some of the most innovative and exciting theatre talent in Scotland; in the case of The Silent Treatment, this is playwright Douglas Maxwell, whose recent successes include Yer Granny – an adaptation of Robert Cossa’s La Nona – for the National Theatre of Scotland, and the innovative Fever Dream: Southside for Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre. With Lung Ha, Maxwell appears to have taken on the challenge of writing a play with, for the most part, little or no dialogue; for some of Lung Ha’s most experienced performers, this takes their seemingly innate talent for comedy into a far more physical realm than ever before.
Set within a sponsored silence in a school hall, in a remarkably realistic set designed by Jessica Brettle, the action launches with Nicola Tuxworth’s Billie being ejected after six minutes for unthinkingly saying “Bless You” when her boyfriend Arthur [Lung Ha stalwart Stephan Tate] sneezed. She decides, in anger, to undermine the whole endeavour – despite the fact that the sponsored silence is actually intended to raise funds for her own ill mother.
What follows is essentially an hour of physical escapades in which Tuxworth and a lone accomplice attempt to ruin friendships and frustrate relationships by stealing people’s hats, lottery-winning scratch cards, and packets of biscuits. Further confusion is caused by the repeatedly unexpected arrival of four workmen [led by Mark Howie, sadly denied his usual opportunity to land a few verbal punchlines], distinctive in their high visibility jackets and bowler hats. Their presence in the room at first appears somewhat arbitrary and sometimes meandering, though (of course) this proves not to be the case later on.
While a few performers’ movements are somewhat stilted, Janis Claxton’s choreography overall is effective, with several cast members excelling in their own little character-defining moments. Everyone, however, is aided by M J McCarthy’s almost hypnotic score, with its continuous, clock-based rhythms and overt tonal shifts to denote characters and mood. The result is an entertaining hour that, while not necessarily crystal clear in its dramatic intent, at least avoids the innate cruelty of slapstick and concludes with an upbeat moment that leaves a smile on everyone’s faces.