A play about silence speaks volumes

Jalyn Han (right) and Tan Hui Er care for an unseen man paralysed by a stroke in In The Silence Of Your Heart.
Jalyn Han (right) and Tan Hui Er care for an unseen man paralysed by a stroke in In The Silence Of Your Heart.PHOTO: ESPLANADE



Esplanade Presents: The Studios

Esplanade Theatre Studio

Last Friday

Despite having minimal dialogue and the word "silence" in its title, this performance speaks volumes.

The production, written and directed by theatre practitioner Kaylene Tan, bills itself as an "in-ear audio experience".

It is a nuanced experiment in sound - how it can be used and where it can take an audience - and it works, playing with the notion of a monologue and pushing the limits of what sound can do in a theatrical setting.

Sound can be music forming the soundtrack of our lives. But it can also be spoken utterances impossible to forget, voices from the past that ring in our heads or noisy but unimportant chatter distracting us from the mundaneness of everyday life.

Sound can also tell a story. And here, it is that of Thian, a man paralysed for many years after suffering a stroke.

Voiced by veteran actor Lim Kay Tong, this character is never seen, but always heard.

His voice plays through headphones worn by the audience, immersing them in his world and allowing them to feel the stifling helplessness of being locked inside his own body.

Against his recollections of joy, loss and heartbreak, on stage there are gestures and movements of a woman and a girl, played by actresses Jalyn Han and Tan Hui Er respectively, who care for him, but also struggle not to crumble from the heartbreak.

It is from the man's still, immobile perspective that one can appreciate how simple, everyday actions such as making a cup of coffee or preparing a bowl of noodles can present challenges.

For example, the man recalls how playing the piano may not just be about music, but can be a battle with the notes on the page and the black and white keys.

In the waiting for time to pass, there is also a silence, signifying at times a comfortable co-existence, at others, an unbearable emptiness.

As Thian puts it at one point in the show: "There were no words."

Meaning, it seems, comes not just from what is said and heard, but also from what remains unvoiced, whether out of circumstance, choice or moral obligation.

With an enveloping sensory landscape made of thoughts, memories and bits of imagination, this production is an invitation to unplug and listen to the silence and what it can say.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2018, with the headline 'A play about silence speaks volumes'. Print Edition | Subscribe