The Father and the Assassin ★★★★ National Theatre | Sep 8 - Oct 14, 2023

Playwright, Anupama Chandrasekhar weaves together two stories: the history of India's struggle for freedom under the inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi and the personal development and radicalisation of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of the father of independence. The two are intertwined, but tenuously connected. The former deals with the struggle between Gandhi's pluralistic vision for the subcontinent and the belief of Jinnah and Nehru that the future requires a division of the country along sectarian lines. While the political history is interesting, none of these characters are really developed, nor is their debate presented in a way which really captures the audience's imagination. On the other hand, the more personal story of Godse and his evolving intolerance is quite engrossing. Raised as a girl by parents who have made a bargain with the goddess, Durga, after the loss of three male children, Godse, as engagingly portrayed by Hiran Abeysekera, is both humorous and charming. Indeed, his finding of himself in ultra-nationalism and bigotry is made all the more distressing by the fact that we do relate to him. However, while some of that empathy arises from his breaking of the fourth wall and providing a direct presentation of his situation to the audience, that link with the character is also awkwardly ruptured when he makes contemporary references to Brexit and Richard Attenborough's film about Gandhi. In fact, the need to draw out the parallels to present attitudes and events sometimes seems rather heavy handed, indicating a lack of trust that the audience can do this job on their own. Such caveats aside however, this is a first rate production that is beautifully staged. The choreography of the large cast is brilliantly effected, and it imaginatively complements Rajha Shakiry's wonderfully versatile set. Indhu Rubasingham's direction is quite flawless and the audience leaves the theatre with a great deal to think about.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Marc Brenner

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