As the Red Khmer tribunal commenced late in February 2009, a performance about Pol Pot's reign of terror, Breaking the Silence, premiered in Phnom Penh. In this play by Annemarie Prins, performed and produced by Cambodians, actors tell stories of their fellow countrymen who experienced the Red Khmer regime (1975-1979). The initial performances in Phnom Penh were successful.
Annemarie Prins: "The fact that ninety percent of the audience was Cambodian was extraordinary. I believe the audience was moved; the presentation allows them to digest the content. During the second performance there was background noise from a wedding celebration, but the 450 members of the audience watched in complete silence. A number of people said they wanted to tell their children about it, and that is what is most important to me."
Cambodian poetry plays an important part in the performance, especially work by U Sam Oeur, who survived the reign of terror by pretending to be illiterate. Prins: "In Cambodia the people chant poems. I received some music to which U Oeur chants his poems and it is so wonderful!" One of the poems by U Oeur that Prins used is The keening of wives
O, darling, my darling
Now you are dead.
You’re shot dead…. Buddho!
You’ve left me alone
in the middle of the island.
From today onward
I shall have no hope
Prins: "I would never write anything like it in Dutch, but the responses from the Cambodian audience tell me that it is right."
After the premiere in Phnom Penh, Breaking the Silence will tour the province. A mobile stage can be erected anywhere in the rice paddies. There is also a programme that evolves around the performance that is used to stimulate discussion. Prins hopes her work will help Cambodians to deal with their traumatic past. "Every art serves as therapy; imagination is therapeutic," she is convinced. Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre Cambodia that is providing the extra programme, agrees. He was deeply impressed by the play and hopes that Breaking the Silence can be included in a programme of lessons for secondary school students.
Breaking The Silence was supported by the Prince Claus Fund, Theatre Embassy and the Dutch Embassy in Bangkok..