Donmar Warehouse, London – until 17 September 2022
Silence is based on a non-fiction book by journalist Kavita Puri who interviewed people who lived through the partition of India in 1947 and subsequently settled in the UK.
The play is co-authored by Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood and is structured as a series of individual stories joined loosely by the thread of a journalist trying to coax her elderly father into talking about his own experiences.
Partition is not an event in history I know much about, which is what immediately drew me to the play, and for that, it is a good introduction. These are real experiences of trauma from a country suddenly divided on religious grounds. Friends turned enemies overnight because of a line drawn on a map and the atrocities and violence that result when people are othered.
The staging is simple, with large panels of cloth hanging towards the back of the stage, onto which there are projections. These can be turned at different angles.
A piece of string is used to denote how the country was carved up with religious groups designated to certain areas. And chalk lines depict train tracks now dissected by the ‘border’.
However, the staging is such that it pushes the actors towards the front of the stage, and the production doesn’t make the most of the Donmar’s thrust with much of the performance played forwards, neglecting those sitting to the sides. Some of the delivery was also relatively quiet, which made it difficult to hear at times.
But the real problem for me stems from how the source material is used. It is very factual and documentary-esque, which has the effect of stripping away some of the emotion. What should be heartbreaking, horrific and shocking stories don’t fully translate as such.
In a discussion on Instagram, @cherylannebird said: “At times it was one step away from a power point presentation”, which is spot on. It just wasn’t as moving as it should have been.
It has certainly made me curious to seek out more stories about partition, but, given the events on which it is based, as a piece of theatre, it didn’t properly tap into the drama and emotion, so I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Silence, Donmar Warehouse
Adapted from Kavita Puri’s Partition Voices: Untold British Stories by Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood
Director: Abdul Shayak
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes without an interval
Booking until 17 September, then it has a run at Tara Theatre. For more details and to buy tickets, see the Donmar Warehouse website.
This was a preview performance.
Cruise, Apollo Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Monster, Park Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Freud’s Last Session, King’s Head Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Theatre coming up in the next few weeks:
Who Killed My Father, Young Vic; The Clinic, Almeida Theatre and Rose, Park Theatre
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