There’s a sponsored silence in the church hall for Billie’s mum, who has cancer. Chalked up on the blackboard are the words “make a sound and you’re out… so shut your face” and on the invigilator’s desk is a storage box labelled “banned items”, namely phones and food. Eating is not allowed but “bodily noises don’t count”.
This is Douglas Maxwell’s comedy for Lung Ha Theatre Company. Who will be first to break the silence? It’s Billie (Nicola Tuxworth) and she’s only lasted six minutes. She inveigles her pal Stacey (Emma Clark) to get the others to break the silence too even if it means revealing “a secret that will tear the room apart”.
The plan is to subvert all of the fellow silent ones (played by a host of Lung Ha regulars). The results summon up Chaplin, Hanna-Barbera, Beckett and Jacques Tati. As time goes on, so the gang gets more and more frustrated at not being allowed to speak, resorting to sign language and laminated cards with words and emojis printed on them. There’s even a game of pass the parcel with Jesus’s head (don’t ask!). Then a bunch of painters and decorators arrive (in their vests and bowler hats I thought for a moment it was an invasion of Orangemen).
There is fine use of comic music (MJ McCarthy) and talented choreographer Janis Claxton is movement adviser. There’s also a pleasing, realistic set by Jessica Brettle with all of the doors and windows that farce requires. The direction from Maria Oller is sure.
The Silent Treatment is not fully resolved, however. Although it’s comic and touching, it meanders, and the mischief vented by the two girls loses focus at times – perhaps not unsurprisingly with so many people all on stage almost throughout. Yet Lung Ha’s massed ranks pull it off. I just wish things had been funnier.