Review: Archetypal characters dilute Jody Medland’s class message in The Unspoken
Jody Medland’s The Unspoken at Baron’s Court Theatre delves into the imbalances of the British class system - but is let down by the littering of archetypal characters and clichés throughout.
Set in Northern England in 1972 with the miner’s strikes pending, old miner Jimmy (Will Tellar) convinces his blind daughter they are living in luxury.
His daughter Maggie (Hannah Tarrington) has been forbidden from leaving the house.
In one particularly disturbing scene, Jimmy puts his young daughter in a dog collar and makes her bark.
Jody said: “When I first started the Unspoken, I didn’t completely understand the point I was trying to make.
“But when the theme of ‘class’ came up, I understood it should tackle the imbalances that exist in our society, and how this can sometimes lead people to do unspeakable things, even to those they love.”
It is problematic to suggest class struggles can justify these extreme acts of abuse and it is difficult to feel any sympathy for Jimmy.
In fact, even though the actors are talented, it is hard to feel an attachment to any of the characters as they are archetypes: The priest who’s a paedophile, the angry Northern minor, the gentle mother and the submissive young girl who longs for love.
Perhaps it’s a Brechtian use of stock characters to make a political point about class and gender struggles – and certainly Jimmy and Maggie suffer because of stereotypical expectations of their genders.
Jimmy struggles to love without aggression and he relays the cliché ‘you’ve got to be cruel to be kind’ which informs his relationship towards his daughter.
Maggie spends her time relentlessly cooking and cleaning for her aggressive father and is not allowed autonomy.
Maggie’s mother encourages her to work hard at this: “A good man won’t stand for a lazy woman.”
The play ends with Jimmy’s death and the news Jimmy has pre-arranged for his doctor to wed his daughter.
Jody said: “Jimmy’s life is over, his parting gift being the chance of happiness for his daughter.”
Even in this supposedly happy ending, Maggie remains submissive.
Light relief in this final scene is provided by the hilariously awkward but convincingly acted Dr Rose (Elliot Blagden).
But even with that, the ending is bleak for Maggie and seems incongruous with Jody’s dedication to ‘those searching for light at the end of the tunnel’.
Jody Medland’s The Unspoken is showing at Baron’s Court Theatre until 22nd September.