Silence - Premiere

Programme Cover

First produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych Theatre on 2nd July 1969 with Landscape

Ellen - Frances Cuka
Rumsey - Anthony Bate
Bates - Norman Rodway

Directed by Peter Hall

Set Design and Lighting - John Bury
Costumes - Beatrice Dawson


Paradise Lost
Harold Hobson
Every spectator will be immediately struck by the similarities ñ between Harold Pinterís two short plays, Landscape and Silence, which were presented at the Aldwych last week. But Mr Pinter does not watch cricket for nothing. He knows how to bowl quite different deliveries with the same action of the wrist.
Both are quietist plays. In the first, three people, and in the second, two, sit on chairs and talk, less to each other than to the audience than to themselves. /in each play what is talked about is remembered, things: brief love affairs illuminated by fleeting shafts of fading sunlight, or wan and grey in the invading dusk of age and feebleness. Both in Silence and Landscape the smooth surface erupts into one of those bravura passages about ordinary matters-the barrelling of beer or the mystery of a bird perched on a tree- for which Mr Pinter has been famous for ever since his rhapsody on the Number 19 bus at Dalston Junction in The Caretaker. In either play the audience has to piece together into some sort of shifting coherence the fragmented details of the partly recollected past, and in each case what is important is not the past, but the continuing influence that this past exercises on the present which is before our eyes on the stage of the Aldwych Theatre. It is in this present that the great difference between the two plays lies.

Norman Rodway and Frances Cuka
photo Zoe Dominic

One gets the first suggestion of it from the masterly settings which John Bury has designed for them. That for Landscape is naturalistic; it situates its two characters ñ a housekeeper no longer young, and her robust and extrovert ex-cellarman husband ñ precisely in a particular place: the kitchen of a great house. But where the three characters in Silence find themselves is outside time and space: their chairs are on a polished and reflecting floor, and their shadows are foe a time thrown back on to the sloping surface of an engulfing sea. Silence is universal; it is a comment, a verdict, rather, on the whole of life; whilst Landscape is about a particular marriage, a marriage that, because of an unsuspected incident, is an exception to the condemnation implacably embodied, though never stated in any words spoken, in Silence.

The age of the three characters in Silence ñ a woman and two men ñ varies from youth to the very end ñ and perhaps, when the shadows cease, beyond the end ñ of life, as, in Peter Hallís faultless production, they live again the chosen events of their interconnected past. One of them, a farmer, is richer than the other two; he might perhaps have married the woman when she was young, but he did not. The second man is a farm-hand; he had tried to persuade the girl to go away with him, and she had refused, neither of them knowing of any reason for such a refusal that they could put into words.
Neither man understands how he has missed happiness; the farmer, as he contemplates his life, is puzzled, perplexed, protesting. The farm-hand feels more strongly: he is angry and resentful at what life has done to him, and he does not understand why. Of the three it is the girl who had the greatest capacity for joy. In her youth a radiance intermittently shines about her; and consequently the inexplicable hostility of life wounds her even more grievously than it does the other two. The almost querulous tones of Anthony Bate, the blind rebellion of Norman Rodway, and the swift alterations of Frances Cukaís hopes and despair make Pinterís beautiful and arcane text very poignant.
But there are secret ways of escaping from the disillusionment of everyday existence; and in Landscape Mr. Pinter shiningly shows us one of them.

Norman Rodway, Frances Cuka and Anthony Bate
photo Zoe Dominic

Dame Peggy Ashcroftís Beth lives entirely in the transfiguring memory of an encounter she had once had with an unnamed man by the sea shore. Against the impregnable armour with this clothes her the common chatter of her rough but not unkindly husband beats in vain, and the confession of unfaithfulness on which he sets regretful store is powerless to darken even by a shade or for a moment the brilliant light of her remembered joy. His cheerful affection for her, his desire, even at the end his surging and good-humoured lust are wonderfully counter-pointed and rebuked into irrelevance by her last devoted and ecstatic cry of ëOh my true loveí to a presence not there but which nevertheless fills the house. It is possible that Landscape (in which David Wallerís Duff is in its way as fine as Dame Peggyís Beth) will be the more popular of the two plays. But if Mr Pinter were an unknown writer either of them would be sufficient to establish his reputation as a dramatist of the highest, subtlest class.
The Sunday Times 6 July 1969

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