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> > > SICK! Festival: Sue MacLaine: Can I Start Again Please?

'Can I Start Again Please?' is a play about language and the capacity to comprehend and articulate traumatic experience. The work was commissioned to be part of the Sick! Festival in Brighton and Manchester. Review by Colin Hambrook

A bell sits behind reams of folded paper piled up on the floor between two pairs of feet.

Sue MacLaine's 'Can I Start Again Please?' features a bell and reams of folded paper

This year SICK! Festival has pushed the boundaries of reflective, difficult theatre-going to the darkest corners of human experience with an emphasis on performance exploring themes of abuse and suicide. From the packed audiences at all the shows in the festival it is clear there is an appetite for issue-based theatre that tackles taboos head-on.

Sue Maclaine’s two-hander Can I Start Again Please? is written, performed and staged with an incredible attention to detail. It’s as if the sculptural image for this performance were lifted straight from a Vermeer painting. Think ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ and you’ll have an instant iconic sense of the atmosphere conveyed through the set design and costume for what is essentially a static piece of theatre. 

Sue MacLaine and Nadia Nadarajah are sisters presenting a precise and exacting duologue, written in English and BSL. Exploring communication; the play is about the myriad ways in which we understand each other, or not. 

The writing unveils a persistent emphasis and reassurance gained by the use of repetition. “You will not be harmed this evening” we are told. What we are to experience is the aftermath of trauma, an intense 50 minute snow-dive into the impact of living with abuse perhaps half a decade after the act; the point at which ‘he’ was no longer a father.

Honed with great dignity and presence the story within the performance unravels slowly through inference rather than straightforward narrative. With slow deliberation MacLaine and Nadarajah take hold of their audience and shake us to the core as an underlying anger seeps through explanations of the differences between english and BSL. A dynamic theatrical language unfolds as we are shown explicitly the BSL for ‘repression’ and ‘dissociation.’

When Maclaine tells us apropos of nothing that “there is an unexpected item in the bagging area” we are confronted with layers of meaning that become all the more heightened with dramatic tension through the time taken to translate the idiom into BSL.

As audience we are taken on an internal journey through the authors’ struggle to survive and lift herself above the light into a life that contains a learnt language surrounded with shame, taboo and silence.

Further performance dates are:
March 25th at Camden People's Theatre as part of Sprint Festival
June 5th at New Wolsey Theatre as part of Pulse Festival
August 5th - 30th Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh

Please click on this link to Sue MacLaine's website for further information