Keeping up with the chattering classes can be pretty hard going – but for twenty-something Billy it’s an uphill struggle he’s almost given up on.

Deaf from birth, he’s surrounded by parents and siblings who love the sound of their own voices, making mealtimes a challenging cacophony of affectionately abusive squabbling and egotistical attention-seeking.

Nina Raine’s intelligent, though over-plotted, new play (her follow-up to Rabbit which garnered a couple of Most Promising Playwright awards in 2006) looks at communication, isolation and coming to terms with the loss of a faculty that most of us take for granted.

Brought up to fit into a hearing society, Billy (Jacob Casselden) is an accomplished lip reader with an easy to understand voice – but learning sign language and a blossoming relationship with Sylvia make him realise just how hard he has had to work to make himself heard.

The daughter of two deaf parents, she herself is now losing her hearing.
Roger Michell’s deft production moves fluently between the spoken word and surtitled sign language as Sylvia (in an emotionally rich and poignant performance from Michelle Terry) tries to convince Billy’s intellectual family, with their passion for words, that gestures can be just as expressive as speech, whilst simultaneously being painfully aware of how her world is slowly narrowing.

Stanley Townsend as Billy’s argumentative, non-PC, academic father, Phoebe Waller-Bridge as his aspiring opera singer sister and Harry Treadaway as his volatile, thesis writing brother all provide fine support as people with whom you’d rather not share too many dinners, whilst Kika Markham (as their novelist mother) brings a touch of gentle concern to a family whose facility with language is no guarantee of happiness, compassion or understanding.


Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, SW1W 8AS
020 7565 5000
Tube: Sloane Square
Until November 13

– Louise Kingsley