Speechless by Andrew Viner

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Speechless by Andrew Viner. Dir. Liz Webb. Perf. Joshua McGuire, Aimée-Ffion Edwards, Sam Dale. BBC Radio 4, 9 Jun. 2015. BBCiPlayer

Although my entire life has been spent in the lecturing profession, I had an innate fear of public speaking until very recently. Most of my worries centered on what the audience might think of me, and what I said, and whether I could put my message over successfully. I inevitably used visual aids such as PowerPoint to help me; but more often than not the laptop failed to work, or the projector did not switch on, leaving me stranded with little to do but grin sheepishly and bear it.

"Speechless" focuses on a similar subject. Guy (Joshua McGuire) has a pathological fear of public speaking; not just giving a speech, but engaging in everyday conversational contact. His mother (Jessica Turner) offers a series of remedies to help him, but all comes to no avail until a moment during her funeral, when the vicar (Stephen Critchlow) offers a series of erroneous facts about her life. Immediately Guy steps in and gives an effective speech to set the record straight. Extreme situations bring about a change in character.

From then on, Guy learns how to conquer his fears; not only by speaking in extreme situations, but by studying the work of great speech-makers of the past, including Cicero, Martin Luther King, JFK, Margaret Thatcher ... and Adolf Hitler. At first he proves resoundingly successful, as he manages to persuade his audiences about particular points of view, and thereby manages (for the first time in his life) to have a relationship with a girl (Aimée-Ffion Edwards).

Yet soon he becomes so obsessed by his powers that he begins to make speeches for their own sake, full of rhetorical flourishes but actually saying not much. What he actually thinks does not matter; what he says certainly does. Inevitably people close to him start to distrust him, especially when he contributes to the death of old Mr. Roth (Sam Dale), a persistent complainer to Guy's employers, Chingford Borough Council, whose only connection with the world around him was through his telephone complaints.

Andy Viner's play makes some telling points about the importance of believing in what you say, especially where public speaking is concerned. The ending is perhaps a little sentimental, especially when compared with the satiric bite of what has gone before; but "Speechless" is definitely worth a listen for anyone who has ever dreaded the responsibility of making a speech in public.