It was almost seven years ago that I first picked up a copy of Abi Morgan’s TINY DYNAMITE, hidden amongst hundreds upon hundreds of plays, in the old premises of the National Theatre’s bookshop on the Southbank. After I read it I completely fell in love with it, but must admit that it took me a good five or six reads to even begin unpicking the complexities that Abi has woven in to the play.
It remained on my shelf for a long time (seven years in fact!), but I kept finding myself pulled back to it because of the countless layers of meaning that Abi has embedded throughout it. Each time I read it I would find a new perspective it could be read from, a new thought that changed the reasons behind a character’s behaviour, and new complexities in the relationship she builds between the three characters.
What Abi doesn’t write into the dialogue is equally as important as what she does write, and you can feel the sheer weight of subtext in the play, the unspoken exchanges that pass between the two childhood friends who both share the same emotional trauma, which allows an audience to read into the silences what they choose.
What inspired me about the play is this conflict it presents between trauma and recovery. I’ve found that a lot of my work over the years has explored this relationship, which is quite a depressing thought, but I continue to find myself fascinated by the strength of human beings to survive the most challenging of ordeals and to overcome the most painful of experiences.
TINY DYNAMITE presented a challenge of creating an atmosphere and portraying a subtext through the production that as a director I had not faced before. A lot of this tension and subtext comes from the strength of Abi’s writing, but the main way I approached building this atmosphere and subtext on stage was by encouraging the actors to explore weighted silences and pregnant pauses.
It unlocked a whole new level of performance for the actors, where they were encouraged to communicate non-verbally as much as they were encouraged to communicate through the actual text. The silences we found throughout the play gave birth to a charged and magnetic atmosphere that creates a real sense of tension for the audience, encouraging them to try and fill in the gaps as they move through the production.
I didn’t see the original production, as much as I would have absolutely loved to, but discovering this subtext made me understand how Frantic Assembly might have approached the text. Frantic are the masters of physicalising the unspoken through their unique style of movement, and although there is exceptional movement direction from Natasha Harrison in our revival, making this subtext naturalistic rather than movement-based allowed me to build an atmosphere with the actors that hangs over the production and creates a deeply unsettling feeling for the audience.
It means that whilst there are incredibly intimate and complex relationships between the characters, that the audience can feel the weight of something much darker and more foreboding hanging over the production. By the end of the play the audience still aren’t given all the answers, so if you’re a fan of puzzles and mystery, I hope that TINY DYNAMITE will encourage you to reach your own conclusions about the futures of the three characters.