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Speechless: The Musical- A Review

February 10, 2017

Speechless: The Musical is a very powerful piece of theatre. It has funny moments, not-funny-at-all moments and very moving moments. It tells the story of Rebecca (Kate Caryer) a young woman whose severe Cerebral Palsy has meant that she has never been able to communicate. Rebecca has an imaginary friend, who is her ‘inner voice’ and allows the audience to know her thoughts.

Rebecca’s parents, who refer to themselves as “mummy” and “daddy” throughout, treat her like a baby, even though she is a teenager. Rebecca plays with soft toys and toys that would be educational for very young children. Her mother talks about taking her for walks in her pram. The ‘inner voice’ works brilliantly, as it allows the audience to know how much Rebecca hates all this.

When Rebecca’s parents are called away to Coventry for the weekend, they very reluctantly leave her with a ‘babysitter,’ and that’s when everything changes for Rebecca. Her ‘babysitter,’ Amy, happens to be a university student, studying communication. She is shocked when she learns that Rebecca has never been able to communicate. She invites her university teacher, a speech therapist, to meet Rebecca. Here the audience learns that Rebecca and the speech therapist, Jane, have already met once, at Rebecca’s special school. We learn that Rebecca’s teachers stopped her learning to communicate- because Jane used the communication aid to teach her to say “shit!”

Amy and Jane take Rebecca out to experience a ‘normal’ Friday night, in a borrowed wheelchair. Her parents return home to find their house in chaos- but before they can get angry at Amy and Jane, Rebecca uses the communication aid that Jane has given her, leading to the most moving moment of the show when her mother says “we don’t care how you can talk, but you can talk!” The play ends with a song, “Everything Has Changed” as Rebecca’s parents promise to fight to get her a communication aid that she can keep.

I watched this show as someone who has lived with Cerebral Palsy since birth. Unlike Rebecca, I have had clear speech all my life. This is something I’m very thankful for. However, I know many people with Cerebral Palsy who, like Rebecca, have never communicated verbally. Speechless: The Musical, for me, was fictionalised proof of something I have known all my life- that nonverbal people understand everything and have a lot to say. All they need is someone to believe that they are not babies, and a chance to find and use an appropriate method of communication.

I watched a video recording of the show, which was staged in Leeds last year. I sincerely hope the full production can be staged again, in other parts of the country, so that more people can get to see it. In particular, I think it needs to be shown to more disabled people, parents, family members, medical professionals and teachers at both special and mainstream schools. It might just help the world to realise that wonderful things can happen when you give speech to the speechless.

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