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UK National Tour

Written by Ishy Din

Sonali Bhattacharyya
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
Ishy Din & Alexandra Wood
Directed by Iqbal Khan


6 APR – 13 APR



16 APR – 20 APR


23 APR – 27 APR


30 APR – 4 MAY

12 April, 2024

The 1947 Partition of India isn’t something that is taught as much as it should be in British schools. A monumental moment in history, perhaps overshadowed by the early post-war years, the Partition is a salient part of not only India's and Pakistan's history but also of Britain's. SILENCE, which fuses people’s real, lived, personal histories of this time, has provided Tara Theatre, presented in association with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, with an opportunity to correct the record. This production is a monumental piece of theatre, one that conveys a painful truth about the effects of generational trauma, and how a few weeks of work in 1947 can still has ramifications for millions of people to this day.

A wave of voices, movement, and subtle lighting create a wild buzz on stage as SILENCE begins. The light, focused on a stack of chairs that are intertwined and gently pulled apart by each of the cast members, holds deep symbolism. We’re introduced to a young couple, Aaron Gill and Tia Dutt, who are about to get married, one Muslim, one Hindu, though they state that this isn't going to be a religious wedding.

SILENCE, adapted from Kavita Puri’s book Partition Voices: Untold British Stories, which originally started life as a BBC Radio 4 series, for the first time brought to the forefront the real stories of survivors of the 1947 Partition. The 1940s were a challenging time for many groups of people who were predominantly attacked for their religion. Politics, religion, and displaced people became a theme of the time that pitted neighbour against neighbour and provided little safety for the millions of people caught up in the middle. Being forced to leave their ancestral lands meant not only enduring the trauma of being forced to leave, but also the memories of the horrors of what they witnessed. 


It wasn't that nobody wanted to talk; it was that nobody could talk. 

Through fear, shame, and the deepest of sorrows, it's not hard to see why this generation chose to try and start fresh, pushing back the horrors of what they saw and experienced. Throughout SlLENCE the audience is privy to some of these experiences, especially by characters like James, Asif Khan, a Scottish expat who reminisces of this idilic childhood in India. And Irfan, Bhasker Patel, whose night terrors show how deep his scars are, with his grandson, Gill, initially concerned by his grandfather's nightmares but, over time, grows to understand them and him a bit more. 

There are moments like this that force you to lean forward and really listen to every word. The cast does more than act or relay their lines exquisitely; they do something much more profound than that. Alexandra D'Sa, Mamta Kaash, Gill, Dutt, Patel, and Khan breathtakingly captivate their audience, realising multiple characters and bringing to life a variety of brutal experiences. On Opening Night at Queen's Theatre Hornchurch something truly unique happened; after many of these scenes, the cast gained a resounding applause from the audience. It's a testimony to the power of the play, their performances, Iqbal Khan's directing, as well as Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din, and Alexandra Wood's writing, the audience genuinely becomes connected to piece. 


You're left speechless as a daughter interviews her father, or how a man living in Manchester reflects back to being a young boy and surviving a terrible attack that left him for dead. The husband and wife who playfully reflect on what they left behind, and who they left behind, but celebrate what they managed to create in exile. Each story you hear comes from a tragic, personal place that has been hidden in the darkest of memories, waiting for the right time to come to the light.

SILENCE is a production that is very much part of an important movement of the past few years of trying to redress this unfortunate relationship the British have in their culpability of the 1947 Partition of India. From the Father and the Assassin at the National Theatre in 2023 to Santi & Naz, which had an incredible run at Edinburgh Fringe last year, the subject of the Partition is no longer a silent, unspoken, unshared history. 

This wasn’t always the case. W.H. Auden wrote "Partition" in 1966 fully eviscerated Cyril Radcliffe and his role. At the time, Radcliffe was still alive and Auden not afraid to write a poem that so perfectly summed up Radcliffe's role. And yet we’re not been as brave or as willing as Auden to address the complex history of Partition.. 

Auden’s poem really gets to the heart of the issues for the British. The Partition wasn’t about time or being unprepared for what was to be done; it was about causing as much damage, hurt, and death as possible. Radcliffe had never set foot in India before he was given this task, and we never ask ourselves these questions: wasn’t there someone more qualified who could have understood a bit more of the complexities even if the result would be the same, and why didn’t anyone else want this commission? 


There is a line in the play that’s repeated several times during a powerful scene by Khan: “We were friends in the morning, and they wanted us dead in the afternoon.” It’s an impactful line, and it’s a line that shows just how quickly everything changed for millions of people. This goes beyond neighbour against neighbour; this was about destroying as much as the British rulers could, the ultimate divide and conquer; the dividing being the Partition and the conquering being the death of one million people and the displacement of millions more.  

On one hand, in the United Kingdom, there is a refusal to acknowledge that anyone not born here is British, and yet those same people like to wax lyrical about the good old days of the British Empire; in fact, people somewhat ignorantly collect MBE’s. There is still this weird fantasy of the British Empire that always seems to ignore the fact that those subjects are also British. In coming to the United Kingdom, a new trauma is added to the already burdensome experiences of those now exiled, racism. 


It is interesting that someone like Radcliffe can become a footnote in history. Much like the way we don’t really talk about the Partition the way it should be spoken about, Radcliffe gets a pass, having run out of his final days as the first Chancellor of Warwick University as well as chairing the Committee of Enquiry into the Future of the British Film Institute less than a year after his 10-week stint in India. The reason I bring this up is simply culpability. Even though the Auden poem did what so few had tried to do, Radcliffe gets to be someone who never has to take accountability for what they did. In SILENCE they make a point of highlighting that before leaving India, he destroyed all his papers, if he had nothing to hide he'd not have burnt the record.


Rachana Jadhav’s set and Simeon Miller’s lighting design work in perfect tandem with one another. Jadhav’s has created a set that really allows the actors a creative freedom that lets imagination let loose. During Khan's monologue as James, as he talks about the time he returns to India, we are there with him in the house. In these moments, Miller’s lighting also adds a subtlety that creates a trifecta of stage creativity, light-stage-performance. 

Both the Partition of India and Radcliffe, and the British Government are subjects that should always be combined. As the narrative over Partition is being reclaimed by Indian and Pakistani voices, Radcliffe’s role also needs to be reclaimed and connected to this shared trauma. Few plays hit quite like SILENCE, in the stories this productions shares only touches the surface of the history of Partition. It's  our duty to make sure we continue to read, explore, listen, and discuss this period in our history.

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