Category Archives: Language of the Mute

The New Theatre: Language of the Mute

Is binn béal ina thost – Sweet mouth is silent. 

The language is one of the most powerful tools we’ve been given as human beings. Language and the ability to communicate with each other is what makes our species so different and special from the rest. The ability to explain, to discuss, to communicate…  A word can kill, a word can save. A word can start a war, but it can also finish it. And as Patrick Rothfuss beautifully puts it “…Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

So, if we were given this incredible power of communicating through language, how did we manage to turn this skill again us? Imagine, a world where people would rather stay silent than share their thoughts. There is a very interesting theory about languages, which goes like this: it’s believed that if a language lacks a word for a certain action, then the speakers of this language would never commit such an action. Imagine, if the English language had no word for “war”, would it mean that the English speaker would be estranged to the whole concept of “war”?

But we ourselves create a world where some words become taboo. What if we stop using certain words or whole concepts believing that by doing it we might change the reality. is it really easier to stay silent rather than let the words out?…

Language of the Mute is a jaw-dropping play, written by Jack Harte and directed by Liam Halligan.

I have always believed that good theatre should entertain, while great theatre must challenge. Language of the Mute is a play that challenges. It challenges the whole Irish nation. The nation that has been given not one but two mother tongues and yet decided to remain silent for centuries. The Irish nation that relentlessly fought when it was time to fight; the nation that wasn´t estranged to arms and guns and bombs; the nation that was ready to stand strong for its beliefs… but, on the home front, that same nation had chosen for many decades to stay silent rather than to speak up. Literally.

The famous Irish trauma – the silly belief that if we don’t talk about something, it’ll somehow cease to exist, disappear, go away… Years of blood, sweat and tears it took for the whole nation to finally start finding its true voice. The voice of forgotten Irish women, the voice abandoned and assaulted Irish children, the voice of the broken Irish soldiers, the voice of the whole Irish nature and the stories behind them. Every story is a great story and every story is deserved to be told out loud and listened to.

Language of The Mute tells us of only one of many Irish traumas (but it’s one that has been deeply denied and tucked away in the furtherest corner of the Irish mind for way too long).

Katy (played by Aoife Moore) and Dandy (Marc McCabe) come back to school some twenty years after graduation… There is one reason they are there: to punish Donie (played by Michael O´Sullivan), their Irish language teacher. They brought a knife and a gun, but no punishment is a fair punishment without a trial…

Donie is a typical school teacher that many of us might have had. He is the teacher pupils are afraid of, but also secretly inexplicably admire: a tyrant or an inspirer (it depends which side you take). He is also a true Irish man. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t be sure whether in this case the accent would be on Irish or man. In Donie’s class there is no place for the enemy´s language. If you decide to speak, it must be as Gaeilge. And, as he puts it himself: is fearr Gaeilge briste ná Béarla cliste (it’s better to speak broken Irish than clever English). Donie is an ex-IRA soldier who has been hugely inspired by Pádraig Pearse.

As the play unravels, we find out that Donie is also a paedophile, who used to bring the young boy students to Gaeltacht in summer where he would get them drunk and molest them.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of those broken young boys turned out to be school drop outs, drug addicts and alcoholics… None of them was brave enough to speak out, to tell their family and friends what was happening. But would anyone believe them? Would anyone want to listen to them?

The whole generation of those lost boys is represented in the face of Alan Murphy (played by Matthew O´Brien). Having been sexually molested just like other boys in school, probably even more than other boys, Alan went into denial. By not being able to talk about it to anybody, he convinced himself that that was the right way, that Donie wasn’t doing anything bad… As a matter of fact Alan grew to admire his teacher and perceive him as a sort of a father figure.

I’m not going to lie and say that Language of the Mute is a beautiful and comfortable play. It´s not. It´s a straight raw view on a brutal painful reality of a whole generation of people who had suffered and had not been able to reach for help. Unfortunately, paedophiia in rural Ireland was a conversation taboo, a subject frowned upon; something locals simply prefer not to notice, to shut their eyes on and pray it would simply miraculously go away. But it’s good to see that Ireland is changing and such matters are becoming more and more known.

Needless to say that all four actors brilliantly portray their characters but somehow, in this case, it feels so deeply meaningless to talk about acting skills.. the whole subject of the play is just such an eye opener, that I have no other option but to take my hat off and stand up in respect: incredible and very brave job done by the creative team.

Language of the Mute runs in The New Theatre until September, 5th. In contains scenes in Irish which are subtitled. I’m still under a very huge impression, it´s a wow play that is an absolute must-see. To book tickets (if there are still any left), as always… http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=220&gi_sn=55e8cae70ab3b%7C0

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