Silence ★★★★ Donmar Warehouse | September 1 - 17, 2022


Too often history is seen as events that happened a long time ago and in a place far away. This theatrical adaptation of Kavita Puri's book, Partition Voices: Untold British Stories, demonstrates that history is about people and that it is always present in the here and now. Silence consists of the harrowing, yet sometimes humorous, voices of real people who lived through the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. Their personal and painful stories humanise the consequences of political decisions taken with strange haste and apparently little thought. The supposed resolution of issues is exposed as exacerbating subsequent conflict and creating unintended consequences for the future of the families and nations involved. But, while it might be easy to be overwhelmed by this dark view of the human condition, the narratives also reveal the beauty, resilience and goodness of individual people. The quality of the acting varies in this production, but we were particularly struck by Renu Brindle's ability to create colourful and very different individuals in the blink of an eye. We were also taken by Bhasker Patel's work as the father and earnest exponent of first love. Director, Abdul Shayek, does a fine job of ensuring the various stories are suitably distinctive, and paces the piece to hold the audience's attention. If we do have a quibble, however, it is that we wanted to know so much more about all of these people. The frame of the writer's relationship with her own father and his story holds the play together, but we really longed to spend even more time with some of the fascinating survivors to whom we'd been introduced. The American writer, James Baldwin, wrote "People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them." Silence is a sobering and uplifting experience that beautifully illustrates Baldwin's insight.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Manuel Harlan.

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