Something’s not right when a programme is more enjoyable than the show it’s supposed to supplement. It suggests a fascinating subject with unfulfilled potential.
June and Jennifer Gibbons, the twin daughters of upstanding West Indian immigrants, react to bullying, condescension and social exclusion with a vow of silence. But, in taking us only as far as their teenage rebellion, culminating in arson that coincides with the Brixton Riots and Royal Wedding of 1981, Shared Experience only tell half the story. It seems odd not to show their subsequent stint in Broadmoor, which might be expected to exacerbate their isolation.
There’s lots to admire here, not least the poetic text that Linda Brogan and Polly Teale (who also directs) have based on the twins’ extensive, sprawling diaries. However, ‘Speechless’ is most absorbing when it uses the Gibbons’ public silence, rather than sidestepping it by showing them in private.
That’s where Demi Oyediran and Natasha Gordon really flourish, playing the twins with a tender, bruised compliance. In silence, they are heartbreaking, but Shared Experience trust neither audience nor ambiguity enough and, in spelling out its story too deliberately, ‘Speechless’ says too much.