Written by Ben Gwalchmai
Directed by Emma Baggott and Roanna Mitchell
Created in collaboration with Gruff Theatre.
The Silent Lovers is an Allied production. The research and development phase for this production began in 2014, with a first showing of work at the Brit studio.
The Show Charlie Chaplin and Louise Brooks, The Tramp and The Vamp, meet in the warm summer nights of New York. Together they roam the restaurants, apartments, cafés and streets where the movie theatre business is made and escaped. Playing for time on the eve of great shifts in both their lives and careers, the foursome step in and out of conventional frames, seeking refuge from the wave of realism that is about to submerge public imagination. The Silent Lovers is a tragic comedy driven by physical humour. It tells of the vicarious lives we live through the images we create of ourselves, and of our love affair with celluloid dreams. It is a play which focuses on the brief love affair between actress and dancer Louise Brooks and Charlie Chaplin. Using their encounter it explores the clashes between theatrical and filmic conventions, as well as the moment in which performed identity becomes reality. Much of the script plays with the relationship between Charlie & Louise and their celluloid mirror images, The Tramp and The Vamp.
Concept and Approach There have been a number of big shifts over the past century in the way images are used and how this impacts on the way we see the world and ourselves. Each shift transforms how we tell stories and reflect/respond to/create realities, right up to the contemporary framing and narrating of identities through the lens of social media and surveillance. The Silent Lovers takes the transition from silent film to talkie as its focal point, to explore the above through an encounter between filmic and theatrical conventions. Through this lens it raises questions that stay pertinent today: Where is the frame? Who is looking at whom? Where does poetry end and reality begin? If you give them your image, are you selling your soul? Initially written by Ben Gwalchmai, the performance score continues to be developed in collaboration with director Emma Baggott and movement director Roanna Mitchell, in collaboration with Gruff Theatre. The joy and courage of this project lie in its unapologetic play with performative languages. The company works with projectors and shadows, with intertitles and dialogue, with monochrome and colour, with melodrama and so-called realism.
The subject matter also demands the exploration of the performers’ working process and the spectrum between playing ‘yourself’ — Louise Brook’s approach to acting — and carefully crafted character — Chaplin’s ‘Little Tramp’. Both ends of this spectrum are investigated in the rehearsal process, feeding into the play’s key questions around performed and ‘real’ identity. Throughout the whole process, then, theatrical and filmic conventions are moved, shifted, turned up-side-down, used as a frame to let us see how the frame itself changes the meaning of what it contains (and excludes).