Panit Chantranuluck introduces Silence/Night – A double bill of plays by Harold Pinter
What inspired you to direct this double bill of plays?
I love how Pinter wrote without strict adherence to grammar, or even context. As a non-native English speaker and native Thai speaker myself, I found it quite fascinating and similar to the way Thai speak. Silence and Night are two very different plays, but both explore the same themes: memory and love. For most people, love is, hopefully, the first thing they can remember. However, memories get blurry over time – they can end up differing from those of the people you share those experiences with, sometimes the people you care about most. Even so, the emotions remain, for better or worse. The term “theatre of the absurd” can sound a bit scary or off-putting to a lot of people – including me! It’s a style that’s not to everyones’ tastes, but I find a lot to admire in it. It poses a lot of challenges as a director – how you draw the meaning from a scene or a moment, how far you go in helping the audience to understand; even just what all the words mean. Whatever the audience do take away, whatever they leave the theatre feeling or discussing, I want it to stay with them.
Tell us a bit about the characters we’ll meet and the themes that are explored.
Silence and Night have very different approaches to similar material, though they’re both funny and sad. In Silence, you meet three people stuck in a ménage à trois – Ellen (Hannah Evans), Ben (Tom Matthias), and Rumsey (Ben Hooper) – though two of them don’t know it! It’s a strange, non-linear exploration of their relationship and how difficult it is to sever old bonds of affection. In Night, a man (Robert Hughes) and a woman Rebecca Colclasure) talk about their relationship and how they met – only it becomes clear that they both remember things very differently. Perhaps a simpler piece than Silence, Night really cleverly demonstrates how vastly what we take from an experience can differ from person to person.
What’s been the biggest challenge directing a Pinter play?
No grammar, no context. No beats, just silence. That’s been our mantra on this production. Funnily enough, as a non-native English native speaker, I found Pinter words quite simple to break down – at least on the surface. Not having to be concerned with grammar and context has been quite freeing, and figuring out a way to make best use of those famous Pinter pauses. That said, the most challenging thing we’ve found has been coming up with a uniform reading of the texts. The possibilities are endless and the casts have been great in coming up with their own interpretation. They’ve managed to breathe life into some very complex characters and make them relatable even through the distancing effect that Pinter’s writing can sometimes have.
What’s been the most enjoyable aspect of this project?
The freedom to interpret and the challenge of working with the cast and crew to realise those ideas. I have a background in physical theatre and mime, and would have considered them to be my strength. Digging into a text, especially one as densely meaningful as these, has been a big transition, but it’s been great getting out of my comfort zone.
What’s next for you? Another Pinter?
I’m assistant directing a production with Surrey Opera at the moment. It goes up not that long after this! I’m also part of a writing project that’s going on at the Young Vic, which promises to be a really rewarding journey. Creating a project and seeing it released into the world is something I find satisfying in every way and I just hope I can keep it going, given the craziness of the world as it is.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this Pinter double bill?
I hope the audiences will get as much enjoyment discussing the plays over a beer afterwards as they did watching – well, maybe not quite as much. One of my favourite parts is always the conversation as you exit the theatre. We could all do with a bit more of that after the last eighteen months.
Silence/Night runs September 14-18.