Can I Start Again Please

★★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 09 Aug 2015

Two women sit side by side, one white British, the other Sri Lankan. They share a script, which spools and curlicues in the gap between them. One speaks, the other signs. You can’t tell who’s interpreting for whom; it’s more symbiotic than that. They quote Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Can I Start Again Please looks, initially, like a piece about otherness – about the impossibility of speaking for, or even to, another person. It turns linguistic philosophy—that we learn how to apply labels through experience and resemblance—into nonsense. Words mean different things to each of us. They morph in translation, in the gap between speaker and listener. How, then, can we ever communicate anything or understand anyone?

Beneath the surface, there’s something else: an account of past trauma and abuse that’s never explicitly spoken, but implied through allusion and ambiguity. It’s hidden behind Sue MacLaine’s words, smuggled into her sentences, and suggested by the precise tone of Nadia Nadarajah’s gestures. Easily missed at first, once it lands it’s glaring – a stark, galling metaphor for abuse itself. The women ring bells that come to seem like shrill signals.

Pain was particularly problematic for Wittgenstein: felt privately and never shared, yet communicable nonetheless. MacLaine stresses the importance, but also the impossibility of doing so in full. How do you make sense of abuse? How do you take it apart to process it? This profound and poetic piece—almost a performance sculpture—makes a start.