Welcome to our chat with director of Silence David Farr.
Q. Katy Stephens told me the play was about LOVE. What does David think it is about?
A. For me the play is about freedom. And how both noise and silence can in their way either limit or destroy freedom. But I can see many other themes in the play too, so every audience can take their own thing from it.
Q. Where is Silence in relation to Water [a previous play]?
A. It's more ambitious of course, more actors, more stories, and technically more ambitious. It is similar in that we are trying to use unusual narrative techniques to look at personal and political stories.
Q. Are you in the rehearsal room all the time during the devising process, or do you come in at a specific point in order to bring the elements explored into a coherent form?
A. In rehearsal room all that time! I occasionally dashed upstairs to write a scene but otherwise there 100%.
Q. How do you go about balancing the various technical and narrative needs so sound isn't replaced by plot and vice-versa?
A. Good question. This way of working, this marriage of form and story, is interesting and takes practice. You must let the form lead occasionally, even though that goes against all orthodox teaching, and allow form to just 'exist', to find its possibility and potential. Then, later, must come the ruthless self-interrogation. Is this necessary? Is it getting us where we need to get to? Are we just showing our skill for the sake of it? That's the hard part, and it's important not to do that too soon. I have a naturally structural mind so I enjoy finding ways for form to infiltrate into the narrative of a piece.
Q. As police corruption in the police force (especially the Met [Metropolitan Police in London]) has been pretty widespread in the past what extent they researched into this and if there were any particular divisions within the police force that were more closely examined.
A. We researched a fair bit, we took various different true stories as basis, and we specifically looked at examples of how investigations into deaths that might be connected to the Met had collapsed. Look at Daniel Morgan in particular, it's a chastening story. Having said that, we were more interested in the listeners, the sound man and the police surveillance man, and how much difference is there. The piece does ask about the quality of listening.
Q. Can you elaborate on how much the improvisation elements of rehearsal contribute to the finished product and in which characters' development this process was more evident?
A. OK so this varies. The policeman I wrote largely. The characters of the sound man and his neighbour were envisaged by us but then transformed completely by the actors in rehearsal, and quite late in the process. Most characters had some beginnings in our original conception but then evolved in unexpected ways as we progressed. Most of all, the character of Alexei was intended originally as a supporting role but something happened and he became more and more important. Kate was our starting point and our destination. That never changed. She encapsulated our theme. A woman searching for freedom from Noise in a continent of Silence.
Q. I heard that they were allowed to visit the 'CCTV observation' location how did this enhance / change the original vision of the piece?
A. Not sure I understand this question sorry. Patrick the policeman met an ex-Met man - standard research - but otherwise I'm not sure what you mean.
Q. Katy Stephens rocks - tell us what it's been like working with Jonjo, Mariah and the rest of the cast...honestly!
A. The challenge was to get Filter and the RSC actors to feel like one group of performers. I have to say I'm proud of the way that has come out. I don't think you feel that there are different performance styles going on, which is great, and then of course you have great actors giving weight to these roles. It's a good thing for the RSC and for Filter. [See the cast list].
Q. As the show was ensemble-devised, were there any story threads that proved to be too logistically complex?
A. Kate's reason for going to Russia - to find Alexei - only crystallised for us in rehearsal. The Alexei character was someone who organically grew as we worked and was I think both most tricky and the most rewarding to work on. The idea of a man who believed in freedom and voice, whose terror was the silence of his father - but who through personal and political betrayal loses everything to the point that the tape that Kate gets in the post is pretty much his last breath.
Q. What does Nikolas spray on the walls of the Travel Bureau?
A. The word 'Freedom' in Russian. We debated whether to do it in English but felt that here was one opportunity to use a Russian word for real.
Q. How does Filter start the devising process in the rehearsal room - is it a theme that you want to explore, or does it need to be more precise than that in order to have a focus? Is it useful to have a question that you are trying to find the answer to? Advice please for new theatre devisors!
A. So this is what we had: We had a title. Silence. We had the character of a woman. Kate. Kate, we knew, had a ringing in her ears. She has filled her life with noise. And we knew that a journey to Russia was going to confront her with a very different world, a world of Silence in both it beautiful and terrible forms.
Then we had a book. Susan Richard's Lost and Found in Russia. We did not adapt the book but he used it as inspiration. We met Susan, we quizzed her about everything, we stole liberally from little details. She was our way in to Russia now and over the last 20 years.
And then we created characters that branched out from Kate's character. A husband (who represented noise), a lover from the past (who represented silence). The sound man of the husband. The sister of the lover. Like a tree but always with Kate as the trunk of the tree.
The key to the success of this is never to lose track of the defining question or argument that you are asking through character. Not just a 'theme' as that can be much too vague and wishy-washy. But a defining dramatic argument which should intensify emotionally and intellectually through the piece.
Ours was, perhaps, 'Is Kate brave enough to lose Noise from her life forever, and at what cost to herself and others?' So the play tries to put more and more pressure on her, on her husband, on her lover. We realised half way that what we were really making was a love story for our time, told in our way, but a love story just as much as Casablanca or Dr Zhivago. That helped us.
The webchat has now finished.
Thanks to David Farr - and for all your questions, the response was superb.