Acclaimed playwright Charlotte Jones' new play debuts at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Playwright Charlotte Jones first came across the Quakers when she witnessed a silent protest.

Thursday, 26th July 2018, 9:31 am
Updated Thursday, 26th July 2018, 10:39 am
The Meeting. Picture by Helen Maybanks

'˜I just remember thinking it was so powerful, so much more powerful than banging drums. It drew me into them, made me wonder what their message was. My play comes from thinking about that very active silence.'

That play is The Meeting which is now on at Chichester's Minerva Theatre.

'˜We quite often think that silence is a scary place to be, but silence can actually also be an extraordinary space to be, where great things come from. And that started me thinking about deafness, different types of profound silence.'

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Set in 1805 in the Napoleonic Wars, The Meeting tells of Rachel who has been the voice for her deaf mother since she was born, but now she is restless to be heard for herself.

Together, they have found sanctuary in a Quaker community that reveres silence. But the world is at war and it is becoming ever harder to live in Friendship. When a stranger arrives in their midst, their fragile peace is set to shatter'¦

Charlotte admits it's a very hard play to sum up: '˜But the history is that I attended a Quaker meeting in Lewes for five years. I didn't go there to write a play, but just as part of my life journey, and I just thought that sitting there was quite a theatrical experience. You sit in a circle of worship in silence until someone is moved to speak. Just sitting there I was thinking 'There is something here, something I need to write about.''

'˜I remember really early on I was sitting next to an old man who stood up and told the meeting that he was dying and did a beautiful ministry about the fact he was not afraid to die. He didn't have any living relations to love, but he had the love of the meeting, and when he sat down, you could feel the quality of the silence. It is like that silence you can get in the theatre when all the audience's hearts beat together.

'˜I started writing the play about seven years ago. I was just writing it with no expectations. I was doing a lot of writing for TV and film and radio and I just wrote it as a refuge for myself from being in lots of very noisy script meetings with lots of producers. I just thought that I would write something to please myself. It was just something very self-indulgent to me, but not attaching any expectations or looking for a result. I developed it over quite a long time and then gave it to John Caird who had directed (Charlotte's play) Humble Boy. We had a read-through, and I thought: 'I have heard it now' and that was enough. I was having a bit of a weird time with theatre. It seemed to me that theatre was just too exposing with the press night and all that. I was very hypersensitive about that. I have got young children. I didn't want to go through all that. But (CFT artistic director) Daniel (Evans) had read it in an early version when he was still at Sheffield and was interested in doing it.

'˜But I didn't want that. I was busy doing other things and I was busy being a mum and I didn't know if I wanted to do another play. But John resent it to Daniel when he was in Chichester and they invited me over to have dinner with them. I knew that they had read The Meeting, but I thought they would commission me to do something else just because The Meeting was such a personal piece to me, but they said they wanted to do it. And I just thought 'Why?' I just didn't have the confidence that other people would be interested in it. But now I am really pleased that they are doing it.'

The Meeting

Until August 11

Minerva Theatre, Chichester