Nick Le Mesurier reviews Into the Silence, directed by Ian McLean at the Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford
Sophie Duleep Singh, the subject of this play, led a long and colourful life. Born to the last ruler of the Punjab, her father was feted by the British establishment as a tame Indian. He married an Englishwoman, converted to Christianity, but was never happy. Sophie grew up in this divided world, ill at ease until she encountered the Suffragette movement. This gave her the cause she had been looking for, and she threw herself into it. Her organisational skills and good connections undoubtedly helped the movement but she never suffered the indignities of some of her comrades.
There is some good material here. Into The Silence takes a biographical approach, told through a number of short scenes that engage us objectively without ever really getting to grips with some of the deeper conflicts within either the events or the characters. Too much time is taken up explaining the backstory, and we could have lost the first half at very little cost. The almost bare stage should have focussed our minds on the psychological conflicts, but instead we get a history lesson.
There are some good performances, some gorgeous costumes, a few laughs and a lot of characters. Marissa Shamkhali is regal as Sophie, and Nick Bate is the very embodiment of the establishment as Lord Curzon and Police Sergeant Greig. The crowd scenes depicting the violence directed at the suffragettes work well, and the cast undoubtedly do their best. But I left feeling it could have achieved so much more by focussing on the psychological dramas and leaving the history to the programme.