Silence | Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | Review

There’s a lot of exposition in Silence – which has plenty of words, despite the show’s title. Fair enough: one can’t reasonably expect the 1947 Partition of India to be re-enacted on stage, particularly as, according to one perspective given by the many, many characters throughout the evening, the provinces of Punjab and Bengal were determined by the Radcliffe Line. The narrative in the show has it that Sir Cyril Radcliffe, later Viscount Radcliffe, drew a line, and that was that. It was a little more complex than that – Radcliffe chaired boundary commissions – but nonetheless, fourteen million people, give or take seven million from each ‘side’, rapidly moved across the new border, having suddenly found themselves in a ‘foreign’ country and wanting to be where they felt they belonged.

Asif Khan for Tara Theatre's Silence - photo by Harry Elletson.
Asif Khan for Tara Theatre’s Silence – photo by Harry Elletson.

That much has been documented elsewhere, and so doesn’t count as a spoiler (in my view, anyway) – but the show puts it in regardless, such that no prior knowledge of the Partition of India is required to follow a deeply reflective and wide-ranging set of stories from those who lived through that time and their descendants. No programme or cast list was made available to the audience at the performance I attended. A documentary is in the making, with a young filmmaker holding a series of interviews with those, including her own relatives, who were willing to speak to them about what happened at the time. And so this is one of those shows with a lot of camerawork involved.

It is the personal stories that make the show as harrowing as it is intriguing. Given the passage of time, most first-person accounts were from people who were children at the time. One of them thought (at the time) that the Partition was “stupid”, a ridiculous notion conjured up by grown-ups who had nothing better to do with their time. The whole thing has an air of authenticity about it, which sometimes comes at the sacrifice of dramatic tension – on the whole, ordinary people, with no power or influence over the Partition, just rolled up their proverbial sleeves and got on with it: what else were they supposed to do?

Still, one man’s relived shock at discovering that while his own family was still going to be in India all his friends in nearby Lahore were to be in something called Pakistan was discomforting to witness, as were accounts of crimes against the person being committed to women and children by certain men who somehow thought mistreatment, and worse, of people from a newly created other side was going to make them feel their new country was better than the one next door. The play’s title, then, is derived from the reluctance of people from that generation to talk about their experiences. They would rather talk about something else.

I liked the broad range of stories and opinions – one was in praise of the British Raj, because if anything, it was more peaceful than the first years of independence. A couple had relocated to London, opening a shop on Finchley Road: the man had returned to his homeland several times over the decades, but his wife had decided against, having fully and permanently closed the door on a previous chapter of her life. No, I didn’t enjoy the production, but I don’t think I was supposed to – but that doesn’t stop this from being a profound and perceptive play.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

It was a great tragedy. We were friends one day and enemies the next. I will take these things to my grave.

The 1947 partition of India into West Pakistan and East Pakistan – now Bangladesh – saw millions uprooted and resulted in unspeakable violence. It would also shape modern Britain. Witnesses to this brutal moment in history live among us, yet the stories of that time remain shrouded in silence.

SILENCE is a new play focused on communal storytelling – presenting a shared history inspired by the remarkable personal testimonies of people who lived through the last days of the British Raj. Commissioned to mark the 75th anniversary of partition, SILENCE is adapted from Kavita Puri’s acclaimed book Partition Voices: Untold British Stories and was originally co-produced with the Donmar Warehouse.

Aaron Gill – Young Irfan / Tony / Noor’s Grandson / Sami
Alexandra D’Sa – Maya / Daughter
Asif Khan – Jasvir / Kulvinder / James
Bhasker Patel – Father / Irfan / Mukesh
Mamta Kaash – Pooja / Khadija / Noor
Tia Dutt – Mandeep / Jasmine / Zara

Creative team
Iqbal Khan – Director
Abdul Shayek – Original production Director and Developer
Sonali Bhattacharyya – Writer
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti – Writer
Ishy Din – Writer
Alexandra Wood – Writer
Rachana Jadhav – Set Designer
Rose Revitt – Original Costume Designer
Rachana Jadhav and Simeon Miller – Projection Designers
Seeta Patel – Movement Director
Simeon Miller – Lighting Designer
Beth Duke – Sound Designer and Composer
Polly Jerrold – Casting
Olivia Millar-Ross – Associate Director
Malena Arcucci – Associate Costume Designer
Bella Rodrigues – Executive Producer of Silence
Chloe Stally-Gibson – Production Manager
Malena Arcucci – Costume Supervisor
April Johnston – Company and Stage Manager
Emily Davies – Deputy Stage Manager
Florian Lim – Assistant Stage Manager
Sophia Raja – Wardrobe Manager
Grace Duff – Production Video Engineer / Sound and Video Technician
Chris McDonnell – Production LX / Tour Re-Lighter & LX Operator
Natasha Kathi-Chandra – Tara Theatre Artistic Director
Helen Jeffreys – Tara Theatre Executive Director
Lisa Kerridge – Tara Theatre Head of Finance and Operations
Neena Shea – Tara Theatre Senior Producer
Ellie Oke – Tara Theatre Front of House and Building Manager
Becca Pratt – Tara Theatre Interim Head of Marketing
Frederick Zennor – Tara Theatre Marketing Officer
Lisa Hood – Tara Theatre Technical Manager

6 – 13 April 2024

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