Review: Wipers, Curve

“Please God, help me not to make a complete fool of myself,”

Wipers – a garbled mispronunciation of Ypres – is a hugely fascinating piece of writing, co-produced by Leicester’s Curve, Watford Palace and Coventry’s Belgrade theatres and pleasingly playing in all three cities. For it is inspired by the real-life story of Khuddadad Khan, the first South Asian soldier to be awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery in the First World War, where no less than a million South Asian soldiers were active on the battlefield, previously relegated to a footnote in history but rightfully brought to our attention here.

Wounded by an attack in the first battle of Ypres that killed most if not all around him, Khan’s resilience held off enemy fire to long enough to protect the remnants of the British forces, among them the four soldiers of this play. Seeking refuge in a barn, they await hoped-for reinforcements, the noises of (the unseen) Khan’s weapon periodically discharging echoing around as they cleave together over a long night. But there’s not just four men, they’re a British officer and three Indian soldiers, with all the tension and torque that brings.  Continue reading “Review: Wipers, Curve”

Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre

“The world doesn’t work in our favour”

Rufus Norris is set to take over the artistic directorship of the National Theatre in April next year but makes an admirably bold move in Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Adapted by David Hare from the 2012 non-fiction work of the same name by Katherine Boo, who spent three years living, investigating and writing about life in the Indian slum of Annawadi which lies in the shadow of Mumbai airport, it’s sprawling and scrappy yet epic and enlightening as it elucidates something of what it means to be this far below the poverty line. It is rarely comfortable viewing but its unflinching and unsentimental approach feels essential.

Whether accurate or overemphasised, a strongly matriarchal societal structure emerges in this version of Annawadi as wives and mothers seize the initiative in the face of feckless husbands and sheer necessity. Which results in the pleasing preponderance of excellent female roles – Stephanie Street’s Sikh Asha is the fixer for the entire neighbourhood, putting work at the expense of even a special birthday party her kids have put on; Thusitha Jayasundera’s crippled Fatima is a cyclone of malevolent anger that dominates her household; and Meera Syal’s practical Zehrunisa looks set to secure her family’s future out of the slum with some canny deal-making. Continue reading “Review: Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre”