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‘Silence’ play – Affecting drama and hugely powerful in telling hidden stories…

‘Silence’ play – Affecting drama  and hugely powerful in telling hidden stories…

Play first developed from personal memories at the time of the Partition of India now has new staging and mostly new actors and is on a national tour… also news about play’s original director Abdul Shayek…

By Suman Bhuchar

INSPIRED by personal testimonies contained in a book, ‘Partition Voices: Untold British Stories’ by Kavita Puri, the play ‘Silence’ returns for a new UK tour this year.

It was first performed in 2022 under the direction of the late Abdul Shayek whose Tara Theatre produced it – more about this later.

Now directed by his friend and professional colleague Iqbal Khan but still produced by Tara, the style and approach of this production is different.

Young couple: Tia Dutt and Aaron Gill

The impact of the horror and violence of Partition is visceral through a non-realistic set designed by Rachna Jadhav, featuring a raised platform with perspex doors and a background screen onto which are projected images or displays of a live video feed, while some of the protagonists recount their story to an imaginary someone.

The show opens with movement /soundscape and unstacking of chairs by all the ensemble cast of six performers. (Movement is by choreographer-dancer Seeta Patel and Sound Design and Composer is Beth Duke).

Perhaps this unstacking is a metaphor for imaginary lines or borders.

Two chairs are then placed front of the stage and a young couple (played by Tia Dutt and Aaron Gill) talk engagingly about how they met and being of differing Hindu and Muslim faiths, led them to investigate their background and realise how much there is in common from food to culture, to language.

Sindhi couple: Mamta Kaash and Bhasker Patel

So, taking this on board, the burning question the play poses is, ‘We were friends one day and enemies next’, how did this happen or why did this happen?

This is not really explored but perhaps there are no answers instead the focus of ‘Silence’ is on stories of individual heroism or cowardice and acts of kindness by one group of people to another.

The style is a mixture of individual monologues or duologue scenes which are knitted together to give you the length and breadth of the impact that the Partition of India had on individual people.

A young woman, (Alexandra D’Sa) discovers her grandfather was an aide-de-camp to Lord Mountbatten and closely involved in the administration of Partition; while Asif Khan plays a Scotsman with fond memories of growing up in Calcutta (now Kolkata) with his nanny singing him lullabies.

These are the lesser known experiences of people but the horror stories dominate.

The nightmare scene of a young man running to get on the right train to Pakistan are vividly illustrated through imagery projected onto the body of the protagonist and the background black screen.

Women are seen as chattels, objects to be deified or saved from dishonour, ghostly figures clad in white parade the stage like a mirage, while actor Mamta Kaash recounts how women’s bodies are the sacrificed for their own protection.

The dining room scene between Kaash and Bhasker Patel as the Sindhi couple lightens up the story. Incidentally Patel is the only actor from the original 2022 production.

In a seperate monologue by Asif Khan, “They call this the Nehru jacket” is an anthropomorphic way of giving us some context.

Asif Khan

The father and daughter scene is also moving – with a young woman asking her Dad to recount his experiences of the time… and the confession he makes.

The stories have been put together by four writers (Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpeet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood), and woven together in a cohesive structure.

Generally speaking, this is a subject matter that people have only begun to talk about over the last decade or so and there are many more stories yet to come out…

Theatre is an important vehicle to enable difficult stories to be told and hopefully we don’t need to be silent or silenced any more.

The original version of ‘Silence’ was developed by Shayek as artistic director of Tara Theatre, alongside the Donmar Warehouse in 2022.

As Shayek suddenly passed away in August 2023, director Khan stepped in to honour the original intention of the show and to direct the new show, now produced for a UK tour.

Silence’ in its new incarnation premiered at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, Essex where acv saw it. It opened there on April 6 and acv saw it on press night on April 10.

The testimonies for Puri’s book, ‘Partition Voices: Untold British Stories’ was collected by the broadcaster for her series which went out on Radio 4 in 2017 and then, a second series, ‘Inheritors of Partition’ in 2022.

Abdul Shayek at Tara Theatre by Harry Elletson

Some of the audience, including myself, saw the earlier production (three times in my own case — twice at the Donmar and once at Tara Theatre). You can read the review here.

On a personal note, it is only by speaking to the writers you know which sections they wrote and what is upsetting is that there is no play text. In this day and age of representation, this seems to be a terrible omission.

Finally, it is wonderful to see how those at Tara have chosen to remember Shayek with The Abdul Shayek Directors Fellowship – for more details see this page

Pictures: All ©TaraTheatre and Harry Elletson

See here for full tour details –

‘Silence’ is currently showing at The Curve, 60 Rutland St Leicester LE1 1SB (April 16) – April 20

Then Birmingham Rep, 6 Centenary Square, Birmingham B1 2EP
(April 23-27)

And then at Home Theatre, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester M15 4FN
(April 30-May 4)

Earlier from Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch RM11 1QT
(April 6-13)

Running time 2 hours (including interval)
Age guidance 14+

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture