The girl for whom the telephone was invented
Most of us know at least a little something about Alexander Graham Bell. We know he invented the telephone, at the very least. But how much do you know about his wife, Mabel? If you're like me, probably not much. At least before one special night at The Grand Theatre.
We were lucky enough to attend opening night of Silence, a production on the Spriet Stage at London's Grand Theatre. Silence is the story of Mabel Bell, "the girl for whom the telephone was invented." Striken by scarlet fever around the age of 5, Mabel was left not only completely deaf, but also with damage to her vestibular system, causing her to have difficulties with balance. Her father, a prominent Boston lawyer, introduced Mabel to Bell, who was hired to try to teach Mabel to improve her speech so she can "enter society," find a husband, and forge her own path. Before long, their relationship blossoms into something more than student and teacher, and soon the eccentric inventor wins the heart of the well-bred girl. It is out of this love for Mabel and the desire to help her communicate better despite her challenges that propel's Bell's obsession with inventing the telephone, the accomplishment that will forge his place in history.
Graham Cuthbertson as Alexander Graham Bell and Tara Rosling as Mabel Gardiner Hubbard (Bell) in the Grand Theatre's production of Silence. Photo credit: Claus Andersen.
Silence is a love story. It is the story of the love of a man and a woman, the love of a parent for their children, and the love of a man for his work. This is a dark and moody play, beautifully drawing the audience into the silent world in which Mabel (and also Bell's mother) live.
Catherine Joell MacKinnon as Eliza Bell, Tara Rosling as Mabel Gardiner Hubbard (Bell), and Michael Spencer-Davis as Gardiner Greene Hubbard in the Grand Theatre's production of Silence. Photo credit: Claus Andersen.
Although the entire cast does a spectacular job of portraying these real-life characters, one of the most brightly shining stars on the stage wasn't an actor at all. The use of sound -- and the lack of it -- created such a rich texture and mood to the story, immersing the audience, at least as much as we could be, in Mabel's silent world. From the deafening roar of Niagara Falls to the abrupt silences experienced by the entire room when Mabel turns away from the speaker, the genius manipulation of sound in the play was, without a doubt, my favourite aspect of the production, and something that will stick with me for a long time.
Tara Rosling as Mabel Gardiner Hubbard (Bell) in the Grand Theatre's production of Silence. Photo Credit: Claus Andersen
On a personal level, Mabel's character spoke to me as a disabled mother. When she wonders whether her perceived shortcomings as a deaf person would mean her children's childhoods were lacking in some way, her words cut straight to my heart. I've been there. I feel that way often, and it's nice to see this different -- and yet more common than many people realize -- aspect of motherhood portrayed on stage. This opening-night production was also entirely captioned on a screen for the benefit of those with hearing impairments, another way in which The Grand Theatre has accommodated and highlighted the considerations of the special needs community. I am very grateful for all that they do in this regard, both in reference to this play in particular and in the day-to-day running of the theatre as a whole.
MY FINAL WORD:
If you're looking for a moving, emotional portrayal of a story most of us don't know, Silence won't disappoint. You'll go on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, enjoy a lesser-told story, and learn a little something along the way -- all in all, exactly what you want out of a night at the theatre.
The show runs from now until February 3. Get your tickets here.