Jonathan Hall reviews Partition at the Leeds Playhouse.
It’s the wedding day of Saima and Ranjit- only there’s no witnesses and indeed it’s highly unlikely any family will even attend. Because Saima is Muslim and Ranjit is Sikh and both families- like many Sikh and Muslim families- are living under the shadow of events that happened some seventy years previously.
The 1948 Partition of British Colonial India (by an arbitrary line ruled down the Punjab) dividing the territory into India and Pakistan brought about the deaths of some 1- 2 million Sikh, Hindu and Muslim civilians in a series of truly appalling atrocities. This event is one that’s been largely overlooked by history- certainly school syllabus history, yet its impact is felt to this day. To raise awareness of this event through a drama that provokes both laughter and tears and never once feels like a history lecture is no mean feat, yet it’s something writer Nick Ahad manages with brilliant success. Perform this piece in a uniquely stylized form of a live radio drama, one that takes the audience effortlessly between an echoing town hall, a smoke filled kitchen and a stifling Indian barn and you have an evening of theatre that is both intimate and compelling. ‘Partition’ which started life as a BBC radio drama, and evolved into a stage ‘event’ is being restaged at the Leeds Playhouse prior to a tour that includes schools and colleges.
The style of the piece- in effect staged live radio, brought to life with great success by director Stefan Escreet- is one I’ve never seen elsewhere- but it’s a compelling form of theatre that deserves to be utilized more widely. Live sound effects (brilliantly and efficiently delivered by Lucy Bradford) create a whole soundscape of pigeons, car doors and burning pakoras. Four actors, trebling and quadrupling up bring to life eleven characters, from the Mother opposed to her daughter’s marriage, to the octogenarian grandfather unable to lay the demons of his own experiences plus the various people they encounter during the course of the wedding day. All four actors twist and weave from character to character with great success; special mention must be made of Mez Galaria playing the troubled bride to be and Sushil Chudasama who plays not only her fiancée but also her brother and fiancée’s grandfather with a versatility that never once slips into farce.
Because the audience is compelled to work to envisage the images created by the actors and the sound, the effect is somehow more vivid, generating a sense of intimacy between players and audience that harks to storytelling at it’s purest form.
It’s great to see this show revived, it’s even better to hear how its success has enabled four more plays in this radio/ stage format to be produced. Last year in the Q and A session following the show the point was made that this was a play that should surely be toured around schools- the good news is that this (as mentioned above) is now happening; hopefully bringing awareness of such a cataclysmic event in this country’s past to a wider consciousness, especially amongst young people still living under its impact.