Edinburgh Fringe 2010
A stripped back set allows the child performers to shine in this exploration of the effects our words and actions have on others, leading to a violent conclusion reminiscent of Lord of the Flies.
A group of kids in detention is the frame for Peter Bird’s exploration of the effects our actions have upon others, most particularly upon the young. As the events that led to each young adolescent being excluded from the sing-song around the campfire are narrated their various neuroses and childhood traumas are revealed. The action is moved forward by the vicious hierarchies of school, until this short play reaches its inevitable, Lord of the Flies-esque conclusion.
Although the staging may be dictated as much by the limited space allowed by the venue as by intention, the stripped back set is a wise choice, allowing the strong performances of its child actors to evoke space and time. There is no trace of mannered stage-school acting, the actors’ convincing inhabitation of their roles perhaps in part facilitated by sharing their names with their characters. The dialogue is mostly spot-on, with real flashes of insight into how kids really speak, lending this piece a veracity and urgency that its slightly clichéd stock characters might not otherwise possess. The popular girl with the secret eating disorder is nothing new, but the throwaway viciousness of one of her classmates calling her a ‘fat tart’ is genuinely uncomfortable. Where the play failed was in an attempt to convey too many back stories and tackle too many themes, which drained it of its power and made it difficult to follow.
What made this play stand out for me was not its obvious exploration of what leads a child to an act of seemingly incomprehensible brutality but simply the way it brought flooding back the intense discomfort and powerlessness of being a child. The talented Sebastian Calver evoked brilliantly with his body language the feeling of a hundred conflicted emotions running through a body too small and a mind too young to comprehend or process everything they are feeling, so that the violence that erupted from such a simmering volcano felt plausible rather than hackneyed.
Although the play as a whole would benefit from a tighter focus and greater narrative clarity to do justice to some of the very important and occasionally subversive issues it raises (not least the disturbingly sexual bullying of a teacher by students) Broken Voices deserves its three stars for its strong performances and naturalistic dialogue.