By Rebecca Roversi
In 1947, up to two million people died due to the divide of British India. Until 7:30pm on Wednesday 7th November, when I watched Nick Ahad’s play “Partition”, I had no knowledge of this important aspect of history.
The Partition of India is something rarely spoken about. A violent and traumatic time for those involved that separated families and broke up communities. India was split into two nations, separating Hindus and Muslims. Religions that had been living harmoniously were suddenly enemies and this has had a ripple effect, which the generations of 2018 are still affected by.
Despite the deep and difficult nature of this topic, Nick Ahad has created an excellent balance of comedy, tragedy and education. Originally a radio play, Partition was brought to life in front of me in the Pop Up Theatre at Leeds Playhouse. Set in Leeds, it tells the story of Saima and Ranjit on their wedding day which threatens to be ruined due to their families feud, dating back to the partition and therefore, resisting their marriage.
Truthfully, as I entered the theatre and was confronted with microphones, music/script stands, a door, table, bench and a variety of props, I questioned what I was going to see. Was it just going to be actors talking their lines and bashing a few props about? Within the first minute I was hooked. A clever balance of radio play and performance, it went against conventional theatre and everything I would have shouted at my students for in my former drama teacher days. Actors in their own clothes, scripts and a stage manager on stage all breaking the illusion of theatre in a traditional sense questioned everything I know however I immediately connected with the characters and these elements added to the whole experience.
The cast, Balvinder Sopal, Mez Galeria, Luke Walker and Sushil Chudasama, immediately engaged the audience with their vocal talents and seamlessly multi-rolling. I was fascinated with the way Sushil switched between an 18, 30 something and 70 year old man. A live radio play is exposing for the actors and he used nothing but his vocal abilities and non-verbal communication to transform into these characters. His performance of Rajpal’s monologue, which I later learned was a true testimony from a man who had experienced Partition first hand, was powerful, very moving and almost brought a tear to my eye. It reminded me of my Grandad, who had served in the war and wouldn’t talk about his experiences thus showing that, despite different battles, different religions and different countries, there is so much common ground.
Balvinder Sopal also played three roles that were polar opposites. An elderly Asian lady struggling with her only daughter marrying a Sikh, Mandy, the nervous registrar holding her first ceremony and Denise, a brash, confident café owner. She simply used a blue scarf with strong physical and vocal expression to clearly portray the characters and I loved her character of Denise, a direct Yorkshire lass, bossing her colleague (played by Luke Walker) around and showing very little customer service! Denise brought a drop of humour to the play when it was getting deep or intense.
The creation of Radio Drama is always something that has fascinated me so to see stage manager Lucy Bradford on stage, jiggling keys, clattering bowls and spoons and, most hilariously, waving some rubber gloves about, was interesting and added a level of comedy to the performance. In all honesty, the performance by the actors was so engaging that, as an audience member, you forgot about the scripts, microphones and other elements that usually you wouldn’t see. Clever lighting created split scenes and the use of spot indicated when Saima or Amina were talking to their dad/husband who had passed away. These moments brought the mother and daughter together, despite being apart physically and emotionally.
I have spent 12 years teaching students Drama and watched many theatrical performances over the years, Partition is a piece I will remember for a long time. The education it gave me had a deeper impact on me and, as someone who loves the full theatrical experience of set, lighting, costume etc. it took me out of my comfort zone and I enjoyed it so much because of that fact.
Partition is going on a schools tour and I know the response will be fantastic.
Despite studying the World Wars in the curriculum, the Partition is nowhere to be seen and such an important part of history. I believe students will connect with Nick Ahad’s story and the characters, as I did, which will make it real and give facts and figures a face. This play could have a real impact on the younger generations; opening them up to history, culture and relationships they haven’t experience before. A modern, thought provoking, funny piece of theatre which will stick in the audiences mind for years to come.
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