Interview with theatre maker and writer Hannah Silva

Poet and theatre maker Hannah Silva talks to us about her show Schlock! which will be performed in our Main Theatre on Saturday 21 March at 7.30pm. Schlock is a powerful feminist satire for the cut and paste generation that rips Fifty Shades of Grey into pieces.

What is Schlock! about and what were your motivations for creating the show?

Schlock! is about a woman called Kathy who dies of cancer. It is about her life, her body, her writing and her death. It is based on the novelist Kathy Acker. Kathy Acker wrote by splicing together ‘high literature’ with ‘schlock’ – schlock being anything written or made very quickly for mass audiences, things like true love stories in magazines, straight to DVD slasher movies, badly written erotica etc. Her writing is subversive and breaks all the usual rules of fiction. Her pronouns often slip between male and female, the narratives are not linear, and her books are full of lines that hit right in the gut. It would be impossible to write about her using a linear narrative, so I’m exploring her writing and her life and death through her writing method. I asked myself what today’s ‘schlock’ is, and came up with Fifty Shades of Grey. I think Fifty Shades is both a very empty book and a disturbing one that promotes abuse. I wanted to take the language in Fifty Shades and force some meaning back into it. So I’m telling Kathy’s story by splicing together Fifty Shades with a novel by Kathy Acker.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Why is it important to create work that challenges perceptions of sexuality and the female body?

I suppose it’s useful to talk about sexuality and the female body in different ways, and not to perpetuate clichés. Changing the word ‘submissive’ (in Fifty Shades) to ‘mother’ and ‘dominant’ to ‘child’ results in some very disturbing lines and images, that go some way towards finding a language to talk about aspects of the body and humanity that are not normally spoken about, that cannot be spoken about without this kind of violent tearing at our daily use of language.


You are known for your playful exploration of language. Can you tell us a bit more about this and your interest in playing with words and sounds?

Sound is a part of spoken language, and it impacts on meaning, it also impacts on our bodies – the sound of words makes us feel language in a way that we don’t when we just read it. The articulation techniques that I explore in my work zoom in on the ways in which language is produced, they make me and the listener more aware of the movement of the tongue, the breath – the body within the language. I’ve always been interested in thinking about voice around the edges of language – sound pre-speech, sound in between speech…

Sign Language

Schlock! incorporates sign language. Could you tell us a little bit more about this element of the show and what audiences can expect?

I worked on the sign language aspects of the work with Daryl Jackson, an expert in signed theatre. Using sign language forced me to think about writing in a different way. It forced me to use my visual imagination, and it gave me a way of embodying my writing that I find very exciting. I wanted to try and make the work equally accessible for hearing and d/Deaf audiences. But I also have to accept that it’s not easy for me to attract a Deaf audience to my work. Working with Daryl made me realise that it is also important to share sign language with hearing audiences – it is an important British language. Initially I wasn’t translating the sign language into subtitles, but I’ve started doing that now, as it makes it more accessible for all – and of course there are also hard of hearing audience members who may not know BSL.

Why should people come and see Schlock! and who do you think will enjoy it? 

This is a tricky question, often the people who enjoy my work the most are not my ‘target audience’. Maybe it’s sad, disturbing… maybe you can just enjoy it on a technical level. It is an experience that you can’t get by reading a book, watching TV or going to the cinema. It leaves audiences with a lot to talk about.

Rip up Fifty Shades

Have you seen the film of Fifty Shades of Grey

I have seen it. I tend to think if you’re going to criticise something you need to spend some time with it. I wasn’t surprised that they cut the lines where she asks him not to hit her again. While listening to the groupies who all laughed at the same places I realised that literature has changed. Writers don’t really need to create believable narratives and characters anymore. All they need to provide is an outline that their readers can fill in for themselves. The film is for the fans of the book. All it needed to do was show the package. The viewers wanted to see the suits and the cars and the pretty faces, I don’t think they really noticed that everything else was missing.

Schlock! is at Live Theatre on Saturday 21 March at 7.30pm. The show will be followed by a free Q&A session with Hannah facilitated by local theatre director Amy Golding. 

Tickets for Schlock! cost £10 full price and £8 concession and can be booked online at or by phoning Live Theatre’s box office on (0191) 232 1232.  


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