Telling stories with imagination.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Metta likes...Silence

Our 2010 production of The Man With the Flower in His Mouth (which is touring in May, watch this space for dates) started with 5, the recent production of Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape in Town really pushed the boat out and started with almost 20! And my current (non-Metta) show - Barrie Keeffe's Gotcha at Riverside Studios (for Jagged Fence) starts with at least 3.
Starting with silence, minutes of silence - and more generally playing with silence - gets a big thumbs up from Metta.

The Man With the Flower in His Mouth
In The Man With the Flower in His Mouth we hear beats, hesitations, silence and pause. Pirandello was very alert to silence as a dramatic tool – and indeed uses the space between the words to tell a lot of the emotional story. He also frequently writes silent or mute characters into his plays. I love the different qualities of silence - in fact I wrote a whole mini-essay on the subject for the Flower Man education pack - arbitrary as they are I distinguished 4 kinds (though I stole two from Pinter):

Beat – this represents a short pause, a breath, and is often employed as a technical device to aid the rhythm of the writing.

Hesitation – this represents a trailing off, an ellipsis (...), and often stems from a lack of confidence in the words being spoken. The Traveller frequently uses hesitation as a way of implying something without having to say the words. So here the sense is often clear but left unsaid, because as Pinter says 'communication is too alarming'.

Silence (Pinter's first type) – this is the silence of the opening of the play – it is not yet pregnant with meaning, or the weight of words unsaid. Interestingly though even after The Man's 'torrent of language' has been unleashed he sometimes uses silence rather than pause, often to great comic effect.

Pause – (Pinter's second type) – where the story is told through silence rather than words. This silence feels like a breath suspended: electric, sometimes pregnant. 

Why do we love silence so much? Because it requires more of an imaginative leap. Reading between the lines is harder than reading the lines themselves, of course, and thus more satisfying. Silence is ambiguous - and we love work that provokes different reactions in different audience members. Silence forces the audience to do more of the work - to fill in the gaps - but to fill them in according to their own particular tastes/opinions/ways-of-seeing-the-world so every individual's experience of the work becomes unique. The National's The Hour We Knew Nothing of Eachother is another great example of silence that provokes - I loved how simply watching different combinations of people crossing a stage, for the most part silently, or at least without language, made you invent all sorts of narratives, which you could be sure (and this was half the joy of it) were diametrically opposed to the narratives being created by the person sat next to you. As one of the reviews said 'a silent play about nothing has never been so delightful.'

We love silence because it forces us to work and it forces us to imagine. It forces us to dream.

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