Review: Can I Start Again Please, Summerhall, Edinburgh

Published in The Independent on August 17, 2015

Two women sit next to each other; Sue MacLaine speaks, Nadia Nadarajah signs. Both seem to imply the other is interpreting for them – there are comically patronising pauses while they wait for them to ‘catch up’.

Aptly, we seem to be in for a lecture on the failure of language (of the signed or spoken kind) to communicate individual human experience; there’s much quoting of Wittgenstein – “whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.”

But there’s a darker subtext here, icily italicising their exploration of what can and cannot be said. Through occasional allusions, we realise the ‘speaker’ is the victim of childhood sexual abuse. There’s uneasy semantic overlap between the notion of the silenced, cowed victim, and the fact that true trauma is sometimes so deep it literally cannot be spoken.

A formal, almost ritualistic staging has the women face dead out, slowly moving scrolls across their laps, and ringing bells. But even such precise movements may carry a multiplicity of meanings; at first I think the ringing is asking if meaning can be ‘clear as a bell’. Later, they’re surely alarms bells.

This is a clever, and cleverly constructed, show. Go with brain engaged, ready to make meaning.

Where next?