Sunday, February 6, 2011

Billy don't be a hero.

I watched two fillums recently: 'The Road' and 'The Social Network', but as I watched them in the house of The Working-Class Heroes - I shan't be reviewing 'em; I didn't give them my complete attention; I'm in no position to comment on them: so I won't.

Instead, I'd thought I'd talk about this 'Five kinds of Silence' thing (that I was on about yesterday) because it is something that I have given my full attention to.

Now, plays are written to be performed, not read, and lots of things change as people go through the process of bringing it alive but I still think it's fair enough to comment on the script as a raw blueprint.


Five kinds of Silence was written by Shelagh Stephenson as a radio play and won the 1996 Writers' Guild award for Best original Radio Play and the 1997 Sony Award for Best Original Drama. The stage version of the play was first performed at the Lyric Hammersmith, London in May 2000.

In Ireland, it was performed by Calypso in Andrews lane in 2004.

Structurally, it's very basic; thematically, it's really quite hard-hitting; narratively, I find it weak, but then again it's not a 'story-telling' type of story.

The characters are: three women who have lived under the constant and brutal repression of one man and the ghostly echo of that one man who remains with them even after they've killed him.

The man, ( Billy to give him his proper name), exists almost purely as a malevolent force. An abuser in every sense, he runs his home as a vicious 'one man Taliban' with complete control. The story of the play is not the story of three women finding the strength to carry out his execution; the story of the play is the story of the three women slowly finding some sense of their own identity once he's finally gone: a tortuous process, that takes place under the angry spectre of their dead,-but-ever-present, oppressor.

It's pretty strong stuff whatever way you look at it, and there are elements of it I am not looking forward to one iota.

The women are more or less realistic, and the ghost-Billy is poetic and surreal.
If you look at the monologue in yesterdays post, you get a sense of the cold and nasty poetry that Billy is made of: there is no real self-justification or warped desire to protect; the classic bully delusion: 'they deserved it', 'they made me do it', 'it was for their own good' e.t.c. gets no voice here.

Billy exists to harm and unashamedly delights in the hurt and pain he creates. The flashbacks to his own horrific childhood help us understand how he became a one-dimensional monster, but a one-dimensional monster he remains, and a one-dimensional monster is all we ever see of Billy.

Thematically, this makes sense if we remember that the Billy we see is the mental legacy of a murdered husband and father. The view of Billy we get is seen through the prism of those he terrified and dominated.

A 'real' Billy might have made excuses, given himself reasons, but the echo of life he has left in his victims is their construction and they know he enjoyed it. They know he enjoyed it and that that was always the only reason why he did it.

The Billy character is a pure sadist because tragically, his family remember little of him but the purity of his sadism. That is all they have ever known of him. Their horrible life, their rotten memories are the horrible and rotten Billy onstage.

Although it's written quite some time ago, I found it pretty resonant with our world today. Incestuous Austrian dungeon-families and books like 'The Room' echoed around my head as I read it.

It's not light entertainment but it is extremely engaging: it's an angry play shouting loudly on behalf of those who 'don't want to talk about it'.

Should be on in The Loft in April.


  1. Read "the room" eh?

    That one stays with you forever.

    By the way, is the above something that may get staged?

    Peace and Hope


  2. Followed link to previous post, answered my own question.

    Just out of curiosity, I wonder what would happen if you re read the room, whilst you were doing this?

    No, no forget I said that, dying for your art is so 20th Century.....

    Peace and Hope


  3. Oh, it's already booked in a few venues over April: including somewhere in 'The Big Potato'.
    I'll let you know as stuff becomes confirmed.