Working on Hunger

Hunger -  Text versions2
image by Helga Fannon

I’m working on Hunger at Beaford Arts in North Devon, with three actors: Alan Humphreys, Lizzie Crarer and Kathryn O’Reilly. We’ve also been visited by dramaturg David Lane and designer Fiona Chivers. We work 10-6pm and in the evenings we cook and eat together. Like those theatre companies in the sixties – except that this is just for two weeks.

Last night, over dinner, we discussed what we would do if we knew we were going to die very soon. One of the actors, Lizzie, said she would write and direct her own play, the play that she really wants to write. Which was strange to hear as that’s what I’m doing.

How far can you go
inside yourself?
No one no one no one knows.
I know.
No one sees this skin.
No one comes with you
this far.
Until the bottom of the world
falls away.
As if you were never attached
to anything.
And you
And you

Hunger is a difficult play, on the page. As a piece of theatre it’s also difficult, but in a different way. I want Hunger to be difficult…and  entertaining. The ‘difficult’ aspect of the play is that the audience won’t get fed the story, the facts need putting back together by the viewer….or not…but the emotional journey should be coherent.

Part of the process of making meaning needs to happen in the minds of those watching. It should be an instinctive, imaginative, non-verbal kind of understanding. I want people to walk out of the theatre arguing over what the play means and what exactly happened to Sadie Jones – and I want them each to defend their own version of events.

What I have loved most about the work so far is that I have never felt, or pretended, that I know what I am doing. I’ve never thought I have the answers about the work, or that I know the right way to work on the play. And I have loved the fact that no one else involved in making the work has come to it with any preconceived notions of how to make theatre….how to put on a play….how to deal with this play. This is the first time in my experience of making theatre that I have not thought that I know what I am doing. Happily, it’s also the first time I’ve surrounded myself with others who also don’t know how to do this.


We’re here to figure out how to work on the play. To figure out what it might mean, what the characters are like, what the layers of reality and dream and imagination are….we are treating the play as an object to be examined and played with. Not an object to be re-written. It’s not about re-writing the play until it fits a particular explanation, it’s about finding a way of working and a way of performing that suits the words, the ideas, the emotion, the characters, the actors.

We were getting stuck with questions about where and who and why and what exactly and intentions and… Kathryn asked me what I wanted. ‘You’re the director. What do you want?’ So after lunch I showed them my homework. It was called ‘what Hannah wants’. The first, main thing I want is to treat the play as a piece of music. Before lunch, I had said that a particular section needed to come down in energy, because we needed a contrast from the previous part, and Kathryn has (rightly) said that wasn’t a good reason to do something. But thinking about the work as music I realised that if there is a musical, rhythmical, tonal reason for something, then that is enough. The other reasons will reveal themselves as we go.


I couldn’t do what we’re doing now on my own….but I also couldn’t have written this play with others…and I couldn’t have started from what we are doing now and then written the play ….the play is way too complex for me to have written it consciously…to have planned it….I think what it has all the way through, because of the way in which I wrote it….is emotional truth….and from there everything else we need can be uncovered.

Hunger tries to get to the heart of us….inside us….tries to write from our imaginations, our bodies, our insides. The characters are real and have daily lives and pasts …but what I wanted to write is everything that is invisible, illogical, incoherent, fleshy, bones…I want to find the words that are written on our skeletons…the words that we hear in our dreams…the meanings, stories, explanations that we give ourselves about who we are but that we can never share with anyone. And the terror of blurred lines between reality and imagination, between dream and consciousness…self destruction, and control, and the desire to …leave everything.

What we are doing in the rehearsal room at Beaford Arts is what Danny and Kim are doing in the kitchen in the play…they are trying to understand what happened to Sadie….and what they are doing is also what the audience will do as they watch. We’re all trying to understand each other…we’re all trying.

Who wants a bite?
‘Six for a pound’
Come on. Bite me. I’m yummy.


[See an early version of Hunger at Camden Peoples’ Theatre 11th January 5pm]

Hunger is supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and using public funding from the Arts Council England.

– written & directed by Hannah Silva

Cast: Kathryn O’Reilly, Elizabeth Crarer, Alan Humphreys