A reviews round-up of Silence, which opened last week at the Donmar Warehouse in London.
The play is adapted from Kavita Puri’s “Partition Voices: Untold British Stories” by Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood.
Silence examines the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan, which saw millions of people uprooted and resulted in terrible violence. It also shaped modern Britain forever.
75 years later, this new play takes communal storytelling, and real personal testimonies of people who lived through the last days of the British Raj, and is co-produced by the Donmar with Tara Theatre.
Silence runs until 17 September 2022.
"Partition yields neither documentary nor drama"
"... in this four-handed adaptation – by Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood – documentary and drama are both diminished. The accounts are introduced by an unnecessary story about the documentary maker. Performances are often overemphatic; Rose Revitt’s screen-based design is fidgety. Verbatim history has been extraordinarily important in the theatre – and on radio (where surely it deserves its own strand). Yet you sense its power only intermittently here."
"A potent and poetic telling of the partition of India"
"The stage adaptation of Kavita Puri’s extraordinary oral history project is at times superficial and blunt but also deeply moving"
"The testimonies, delivered by seven actors, keep their power in this co-production with Tara theatre, though they come in snippets and glimpses, hopping from sitting rooms in contemporary Lewisham to villages in 1940s Punjab. They do not always come with enough context, or even characters’ names, and are bound together by a journalist, Mina (Nimmi Harasgama)."
"... there are oddities in Rose Revitt’s set design: layered back screens alternately covered with abstract graphics, left bare or bearing images of maps and women carrying pots. Still, the production leaves us deeply moved..."
"This show adapts a Kavita Puri book, Partition Voices. As a record of ethnic cleansing, it has raw historical value, but as stage drama in this Abdul Shayek production it lacks urgency. "
"The performances are patchy and indistinct, the best coming from Bhasker Patel and Renu Brindle."
"Shayek should remember the adage “show not tell”. Let the acting, not the written page, describe human sentiments."
"A powerful and painful Partition drama"
"The play is a welcome introduction to events that many would rather forget"
"Although this play is credited to a supergroup of four award-winning playwrights – Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood – there’s a surprising lack of dramatic imagination in what follows. Instead, it’s a pretty straightforward staging of its source matter"
"A powerful play about partition"
"As testimony, it is a moving and immensely powerful piece of theatre. As drama, however, it is more limited. The framework and structure are fairly stiff and oblige Nimmi Harasgama’s Mina to spend a lot of time nodding along."
"The significance of the show lies in its existence and its repetition. In dramatisation, the stories live on. They raise questions about borders and belonging, address responsibility for the past and urge care for the present."
"This Partition drama is gruelling for the wrong reasons"
"The testimonies from British South Asians are harrowing, but the specifics of history are lost in this unexciting production"
"... finding a theatrical language for this which both underscores the awfulness while enabling a deeper understanding of it is not a challenge this Tara Theatre co-production triumphantly overcomes."
"... Silence relies almost exclusively on generalised impressions of horror to do the heavy lifting."
"Powerful docu-theatre show giving voice to those caught up in the chaos of the Partition of India"
"These accounts of brutal and needless killings remind us of what our families’ eyes have seen."
"Though not exhaustive, this is a history we all know. ‘Silence’ is only a fraction of the unheard stories of Partition. Three-quarters of a century later, let’s hope the rest will have their chance to make a noise."
"Crammed with vivid testimony"
"Urgent accounts of Indian partition demand a more focused dramatisation"
"It’s crammed with vivid testimony, and yet, in a restrained production by Abdul Shayek, it never quite achieves the impact or richness that its torrent of traumatic experiences demands."
"The play offers an insight into a shameful and under-discussed, bloody slab of British history, but the journalistic framing device is creaky, delivered in flat first-person, direct-address narration – a flimsy construct on which to hang subject matter of such immense weight."
"Good as Indian history, less good as drama"
"Rose Revitt’s minimalist set, adorned with screens and the occasional item of furniture, also serves as a kind of map, the terracotta floor divided in two by a line drawn by civil servants. Tyler Forward’s sepia-tinged video projections supply a smidgen of period atmosphere."
"Tara’s artistic director Abdul Shayek allows the narrative to slacken, however. In the end, we are left to sift through raw material that has the makings of an epic. Another draft waits to be written by someone, somewhere."