Last Updated on 15th September 2023
Paul T Davies reviews Anupama Chandrasekhar’s play The Father and the Assassin now playing at the National Theatre.
The Father and the Assassin
National Theatre (Olivier)
Much is known about Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of Independent India. Yet very little is known of his assassin, Nathuram Godse, possibly because the first Prime Minister of India, Nehru, banned Godse’s statement at his trial from publication, and supressed the assassin’s words. Godse believed in an Independent Hindu India, directly opposing Gandhi’s Independent Secular India, a more inclusive society. Anupama Chandrasekhar’s extraordinary play is historical theatre at its best, magnificent, and gripping, subtly condensing history into a two-hour tale that educates and entertains. But there are no broad strokes, this is incisive and detailed, perfectly structured and with a sharp sense of humour.
The play is centred by an outstanding performance from Hiran Abeysekera as Godse, playful and wicked, inviting us to spend time with a murderer, the meta theatre is hilarious and connecting. His physicality, seen so well in Life of Pi, covers every centimetre of the Oliver stage. It’s also an interesting look at identity and gender politics. With their only surviving child being female, his parents brought him up as a girl, fearing the male side was doomed.
Here he provided income for the family, acting as a conduit to the Goddess Durga. This powerfully and beautifully portrayed, punctured with sly looks at the audience. Paul Bazely inhabits the role of Gandhi, ageing him perfectly as the years pass by, always exuding dignity. In a play of strong voices, there are few finer than the excellent Ayesha Kala as Vimala, disrupting our unreliable narrator, and providing the balance that the play needs, and Tony Jayawardena is superb as Savarkar, Godse’s right-wing mentor. In fact, it is a perfect ensemble, each character finely drawn and nuanced.
The horrors of partition are gut-punching yet simply staged, a key feature of Indhu Rubasingham’s outstanding direction is the flow of the piece, simply yet effectively staged, and Rajha Shakiry’s set chimes in with the tone and movement. The current rise in nationalism is chillingly captured at the play’s conclusion. The National is on a roll now, with imminent outstanding West End transfers, and the high standard being maintained by current productions like this, which will then make way for a mouth-watering autumn lineup. It feels like a perfect 60th birthday celebration of the theatre, and this play is one not to be missed. Outstanding work from all involved, I left the theatre informed and thoroughly entertained.